Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 10, 2013

Sidewalk cafe trash prompts concerns

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Sidewalk cafe seating is popular among downtown restaurateurs and their fair weather customers, but extra tables can mean more clutter and trash in a town rife with both during peak tourist season.

Some city officials who worry about an increase in trash — and costs associated with collecting and disposing of it — want downtown restaurant operators who use sidewalk cafes to be responsible for the trash they generate. Others said that additional burden could hurt businesses’ bottom lines.

Restaurant owners said they want a clean downtown, but are cautious about adding expense.

“I want to keep our front area looking great,” said Patty Hickman, co-owner of The Dish Cafe on Union Street, whose restaurant sports a half-dozen outdoor tables in pleasant-weather months. “(But) we pay taxes to have trash removed. If I chip in to help it’s fine, but if I’ve got to pay for it ... .”

Hickman said her employees collect the lion’s share of food waste and paper from their outdoor tables. There’s plenty of non-restaurant trash that ends up in city containers, she said.

City commissioners’ responses to new trash collection suggestions varied.

“I think this is an attempt to correct a problem at the wrong spot,” said Commissioner Jody Bergman. “It’s not the sidewalk cafes, it’s the takeout vendors.”

Commissioner Jeanine Easterday said downtown restaurant operators already police their outside tables and any effort to require trash cans that could attract garbage from elsewhere would add to the cost of doing businesses.

“Waste generated on the street should be collected by the city,” Easterday said.

Mayor Michael Estes said city does not provide waste collection for every business in the city, and downtown is no different. Nor does every downtown business generate waste that ends up in city trash cans, he said.

“We expect them to take care of their own waste that they generate,” Estes said. “We are going to address this trash problem and this is one part of it.”

Downtown trash cans frequently overflow as city workers can’t keep up with the growing number of festivals, downtown events and late night visitors.

Estes said he expects festivals and businesses that sell food to take more responsibility, and he’s spoken to some representatives who’ve been receptive to that concern.

Commissioner Jim Carruthers will take part in a committee to review the outdoor food ordinance. Easterday and Commissioner Barbara Budros will join him in that group.

Carruthers expressed concerns about tables and chairs stacked up against buildings at night, as well as the types of barriers erected by some restaurants and the four-foot minimum width of open sidewalks.

“There are a couple of pinch points and it makes it a very tight space when we have a lot of people in town,” Estes said. “Maybe instead of four feet we should go to five feet.”

Green House Cafe co-owner Joy Green said her East Front Street restaurant offers handful of exterior tables, as well as a trash container. She’d rather take on another chore than see trash end up on the street.

“I don’t know why any restaurant wouldn’t do it. It’s just the responsible thing to do,” she said.