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WAKE FOREST — Current ordinances don’t allow downtown restaurants to serve alcohol to customers seated outside on a public sidewalk.
Several Wake Forest businesses are hoping that will change.
In a letter sent to Mayor Vivian Jones and the board of commissioners, Unwined on White owner Amy Burkhardt asked the town to consider modifying the ordinance to let restaurants “sell alcoholic beverages to patrons to consume at a limited number of sidewalk tables and chairs.” Burkhardt said the change would add vibrancy to the downtown area and would have economic benefits for businesses.
“Residential opportunities within walking distance to Downtown continue to expand and encouraging residents to enjoy the ambiance of our beautiful Downtown benefits us all and make us that much more of a destination with inviting amenities and an enhanced streetlife!” Burkhardt wrote in the letter.
The letter was dated March 20 and cosigned by Bill Opal, owner of Tonic Bar and Social Club, and Nunzio Scordo, owner of Bodega Tapas Wine and Rum. All three businesses are on White Street. The letter states the Wake Forest Downtown board of directors support an ordinance change.
The board and mayor discussed the letter during a work session Tuesday. The board didn’t take any action, but a majority of board members present said they were interested in looking into the possibility and having staff draft and ordinance for review.
“I think it’s creating more of an outdoor space option where you can consume alcohol if you want and I think for me it creates more options of destinations for people to visit and drink responsibly,” Commissioner Liz Simpers said. “That’s why I’m for it. I think it helps our downtown businesses and I think it brings people from outside of town.”
Jones said she also would support an ordinance change.
“I don’t, of course,” said commissioner Greg Harrington, drawing a chuckle from Jones. He said some citizens would object to alcohol being served on public property.
“I don’t think that families that don’t drink, that take their kids downtown, should be subjected to having to walk by a restaurant where people are outside drinking, because there are people that don’t drink,” Harrington said. “There are families that don’t like their kids to be subjected to that. So it should remain behind doors at the restaurants.”
Simpers countered by saying she believed each patron should be able to decide themselves if they want to drink alcohol or not.
Commissioners Brian Pate and Anne Reeve were not present at the meeting. Commissioner Bridget Wall-Lennon said she was possibly in favor of an ordinance change, but would like to hear more input from business owners and citizens.
Town employees will draft an ordinance for the board to vote on at a future meeting. Lisa Hayes, executive director of Downtown Wake Forest, said part of the ordinance would likely require businesses to have insurance that would shield the town from any alcohol-related issues on public property.
Responding to a question from Wall-Lennon, Hayes added that many towns and cities across the nation allow sidewalk alcohol sales.
“Well because everyone else is doing it, we’ve got to do it,” Harrington said sarcastically.
Responding to Harrington’s comments, Burkhardt later said Unwined serves more than alcohol, including non-alcoholic drinks like kombucha. She said customers should be allowed to decide what they want to drink.
Burkhardt’s husband, Brian Burkhardt, said the couple’s business frequently gets requests from customers interested in sitting outside while they drink.
Also at Tuesdays meeting, board members learned of different options the town has in negotiating with the N.C. Department of Transportation regarding cost, maintenance and design of planned service roads that will carry local traffic after Capital Boulevard is upgraded to interstate-like conditions over the next decade.
Jonathan Jacobs, a transportation engineer with the town, told the board that the town can select the design of future service roads that will run parallel to Capital Boulevard. NCDOT plans to remove direct access to Capital Boulevard and replace access with seven on-ramps. Access to businesses will be made via two service roads, one west of Capital Boulevard and the other to the east.
Jacobs said these roads will be build by NCDOT, and would typically be simple two-lane roads without sidewalks. Wake Forest officials are requesting curb, gutters, sidewalks and landscaping be added along the eastern service road, which would be in the town limits.
The town would normally have to pay for those betterments; NCDOT has offered to pay for construction costs as long as the town agrees to be responsible for maintaining the service road.
Jacobs said the town has asked NCDOT if a service road could be bridged over the Neuse River, so that local traffic wouldn’t need to use Capital Boulevard to cross. Currently, NCDOT has no such plans, he said.
The construction of the Capital Boulevard improvements will likely be pushed back, Jacobs told commissioners. The first three phases ( from Interstate 540 to Durham Road ) had been planned to start in 2021 but state officials say a 2024 construction date is now more likely. It will take about four years to complete these phases.
The final stage ( Durham Road to Purnell/Harris Road ) was expected to then start in 2024 but now is slated for 2029. This phase will also take four years to construct.
Wake Forest’s new comprehensive transportation plan — a wish list of transportation improvements the town wants to make over the next three decades — is nearing completion.
Commissioners got a sneak-peak of the plan Tuesday. Instead of a text document, consultant WSP Global is producing an interactive website featuring dynamic models and maps of traffic recommendations.
Officials said Wake Forest is expected to be the only town in North Carolina with such a visual and accessible transportation plan. It is expected to be finalized and released publicly in September.
The recommendations in the plan include improvements to high-traffic corridors, including Rogers Road, Ligon Mill Road, Main Street and Foundation Drive. The improvements were informed in part by public comments during a drop-in information session the town held in May.
On Tuesday, the board of commissioners also heard presentations to:
• Recognize the Wake Forest Police Department for providing personal aid to officers with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington Police Department following Hurricane Florence. UNC Wilmington Police Chief David Donaldson attended the meeting to public thank the Wake Forest Police Department.
• Update commissioners on town employee response to a previous decision to stop offering retiree health care benefits for new hires made after July 1, 2018. Town staff told commissioners there have been no complaints from employees.
• Review an addition to the agreement between the town and DRCW Investments regarding the Brewer Circle Development. If adopted, the addition would require DRCW to make reasonable efforts to contract with any disadvantaged business enterprises. The board indicated they would support making the addition.
• Present the town’s updated purchasing policy. The current policy was adopted in 2007, and town staff said technology changes since then warrant updating the policy in its entirety. The board is expected to vote to adopt the new policy at its next meeting, held 7 p.m. on Aug. 20.