Philly’s Worst Outdoor Seating Scofflaws, According to the City Controller
In late August, the office of City Controller Alan Butkovitz launched a code compliance and safety audit of Philadelphia’s sidewalk cafés to determine whether participating establishments were properly licensed, aligned with city code, and not impeding pedestrian traffic with their tables and chairs.
Butkovitz’s “investigator teams” surveyed 363 businesses that had either active or recently expired café licenses, finding that 49 of the 80 unlicensed locations were illegally operating outdoor cafés – representing just short of $13,000 in lost license fees and fines to the city. The audit states that a total of 218 offenses based on seven different code violations were discovered in 113 of the eateries they visited. Here’s a breakdown of the misconduct:
Citation data shows that 79 percent of the 431 tickets issued from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2017 were for unlicensed cafés. Additionally, investigators found a lack of escalating fines for each location, in violation of the city’s sidewalk café codes. While the Controller’s Office has the right to fine up to $300 for offenses, repetitive citations remain at the same $75 fine level.
Among the establishments specifically called out in Butkovitz’s audit include Smokin’ Betty’s (116 South 11th Street), Marmont Steakhouse and Bar (222 Market Street), Bayou Bar & Grill (4245 Main Street, Manayunk), Lolita (106 South 13th Street), Fadó Irish Pub (1500 Locust Street), and Franklin Fountain (116 Market Street), which has been cited six times since 2013 for operating an unlicensed sidewalk café.
As part of the review, Butkovitz’s office offered several recommendations:
- The Right-of-Way Unit should follow Code guidelines stating that offenders be cited for repeated violations. This should be reflected by increasing fines for each violation after the first offense. This would potentially deter eateries from becoming habitual offenders of the Code.
- Ensure greater enforcement throughout the entire sidewalk café season and continually follow up on unlicensed establishments.
- The city should update the Sidewalk Café License web page and online application to correct the outdated fee listed.
City Council should consider adopting stricter penalties for businesses that habitually violate the Code yet continue to operate their sidewalk café in an unsafe manner.
- The City of Sarasota, for example, adopted enforcement measures into its city code for the “Right-of-way usage permits for sidewalk cafés”. The code allows for the city to suspend a sidewalk café permit in the interest of the public health, safety and welfare. The city provides the location with a timeline where it can cease sidewalk café operations and remove any such furniture and other objects from the permit area. If the location does not remove these items, the city is authorized to remove all objects without obligation to replace or repair if any damage occurs. Any furniture or other objects removed may be held by the city until any fines or fees due hereunder have been paid in full.
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