for Montclair Local

Eateries are taking their business outside as temperatures rise and sidewalk cafe customers spring for outdoor dining. However, some owners have been hit with violations.

There are 71 establishments that have sidewalk cafe licenses; 15 violations were served last year.  Five resulted in summonses to appear in court. In addition, the department received and responded to six citizen complaints regarding sidewalk cafes.

So what are the complaints about? Mostly not provide enough sidewalk space for pedestrians, wheelchairs or baby carriages.

“Most complaints received from citizens involve failure of the establishment to provide a six-foot pedestrian passageway,’ said Katya Wowk, township communications director.

When the complaint is received, an REHS [Registered Environmental Health Specialist] conducts an investigation. If a violation is observed, the owner of the establishment receives a notice of violation from the township. If the owner fails to correct the violation within the time frame provided, a summons, requiring a court appearance, will be issued, said Wowk.

Fines are determined by the Montclair court judge, with the maximum being $2,000.

Enforcement is handled by the REHS of the Montclair Health Department. Although licensing period starts Jan. 1 and ends Dec. 31, most sidewalk cafes are not in operation until spring. REHS officials conduct a survey of the cafes throughout the township and issue notices of violation where necessary and respond to complaints when they arise, Wowk said. Businesses are given 10 days to abate a violation before a summons is issued.

Resident Colleen Martinez said she was happy to hear that Montclair enforces its code governing sidewalk cafes. She noted that Church Street, which is lined with sidewalk cafes, can be challenging to navigate.

“We’re a walking and biking family. Generally, we ride on the street, but Church Street is a challenging area. I’ve had my daughter get off the bike in some cases to walk through on the sidewalk because the area becomes so congested. It’s a minor inconvenience for her, but for people in wheelchairs and scooters, people with mobility impairments who may not have access, it becomes an issue,” Martinez said.

Township code indicates that sidewalk café licenses are issued with a $150 operation fee for seating of 12 or fewer patrons and $250 for more than 12. For more than three tables (six seats), businesses pay an additional fee of $1.25 per square foot. A six-foot sidewalk clearance for pedestrian use is required. Moveable café partitions must be used to separate the sidewalk café area from the pedestrian passageway.

Operation hours are from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. A half hour after closing, all partitions, furniture, receptacles, décor and materials used to operate outdoor cafes must be removed.

Jennifer Brown, Executive Director of the Business Improvement District (BID) that represents 400 businesses, including approximately 100 bars and restaurants, said sidewalk cafes and sidewalk accessibility for all pedestrians are both important.

“Sidewalk cafes are great for the streetscape and life of the downtown area. From the perspective of neighborhood development, they create a nice street life where you can dine, shop and go to a cultural institution in commercial areas that are part of the fabric of an urban environment,” Brown said.

Residents who have concerns about sidewalk cafes can contact the Montclair Health Department or call the township at 973-744-1400 and the complaint will be forwarded.