Exeter makes way for outdoor dining

Kirkman’s VIP Pizza takes advantage of encroachment permit to host outdoor dining on city sidewalk

EXETER – Exeter is giving a break to restaurants who have been forced to offer takeout orders and deliveries only.

Through some interpretation of the city’s zoning ordinance restaurants are welcoming diners to take a seat outside. Exeter city manager Adam Ennis said that businesses can use the sidewalk and in some cases the parking spots in front of their establishments to serve customers.

“It’ll be exciting to see folks taking advantage of that if it will work for them,” Ennis said.

According to the city’s zoning ordinance, “placement of tables, chairs and umbrellas on the public sidewalks for public use, directly in front of a given business is permitted so long as adequate clearance for pedestrian circulation is maintained.”

As well, “encroachments, such as awnings are permitted in the public right-of-way to add visual interest to building facades and the street so long as obstructions to pedestrian movements is avoided.”

Kevin Kirkman, owner of VIP Pizza on Pine Street is playing host to regular customers this month. While it doesn’t necessarily make up for all the business he’s lost, offering outside dining does help.

“We’re trying. Honestly business is down 50%,” Kirkman said. “I’m trying to keep everybody working so this helps. And the community has been supportive all along, like they always are.”

For the most part, everything that Kirkman can offer inside he can also offer outside. Except for more seating. He can accommodate 15 people at most on the sidewalk. Albeit that hasn’t stopped him for providing a somewhat usual VIP Pizza feel. There is nothing stopping him from serving beer with food, just as he would have done inside. And he still has sports on TV. Kirkman said he’s still hosting football games on Mondays, Thursdays, and Sundays.

The only draw back is the lack of restaurants on his side of the street. Kirkman is looking into occupying the parking stalls in front of his building to add more space for diners. But it will be nothing like the wall of restaurants that line Visalia’s downtown where they sectioned off half a city block of parking to accommodate outdoor diners.

Ennis said that taking over parking stalls is more on a case-by-case basis, but it shouldn’t come with some sort of permitting headache on the part of the business owner. Kirkman was wowed by how easy it was to get the permitting for the sidewalk. And it was cost free to boot.

“It took me one day. The city of Exeter was fantastic. Adam and Daymon [Qualls, public works director] and the whole process was easy and fast,” Kirkman said. The only thing businesses need is to make sure their insurance covers outside dining.

“Most insurances have it already. Maybe you have to put a disclaimer at the bottom for the outside area. It takes minutes to do,” Kirkman added.

Ennis said that the encroachment permitting is run by staff and doesn’t need council approval. The permits expire after 180 days, but could be renewed.

“We could extend them if they need to be. But it’s not intended to be a permanent thing necessarily,” Ennis said.

Making way for more restaurants who may want to take advantage of the city’s permit, Ennis said the city’s public works crew will take care of pressure washing sidewalks.

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