After nearly two years of work, Westerville is ready to establish a policy for outdoor dining within the public right of way of the city's Uptown District.
The concept first was discussed in August 2015, when staff brought the topic to the city's Uptown Review Board.
Back then, Koble Grill, Uptown Deli and Brew and Asterisk Supper Club -- all either new or close to opening at the time -- had expressed interest in using areas of the sidewalk along State Street to provide outdoor seating for customers.
The main problem was the city had no regulations for such requests, so Kim Sharp, deputy director of planning and development, and others began working on a set of rules.
"There were rules of thumb, but they weren't written," Sharp said.
Now, businesses will go through a permit process that allows them to use "a portion of the public right-of-way for outdoor dining," and use structures to contain the areas. Applications will cost businesses $300, and the permit will last for five years.
Criteria for city staff to grant the permit include "public health, safety and welfare," the flow of pedestrian traffic, a lack of smokers and seating-exclusive areas -- no standing.
City council members also asked staff to add an annual inspection "to make sure people build and are setting out what they said they would set out," according to Sharp.
Sharp, who helped lead the process, said business owners she spoke to ultimately were happy with the new regulations, especially after a long series of conversations with them.
"There were quite a few sit-down meetings with them to make sure they buy in," she said. "We certainly heard their point of view."
For the city, the rules serve as another way to add to the walkability and increasing activity in Uptown.
"We definitely view it as an economic-development tool to contribute to the vibrancy of Uptown," Sharp said.