Woodstock officals consider Benton Street outdoor dining area

WOODSTOCK – City officials are considering designating space on Benton Street for outdoor dining on the historic Square, but not everyone is on board with the idea.

Council member Mike Turner wants to close off parking on the west side of Benton Street between East Judd Street and Church Street over the summer so restaurants along the street such as Mia Passione, Pour House and D.C Cobb’s could put out tables and chairs for alfresco dining.

“In my experience, there is a high value placed in any type of opportunity to dine outdoors,” Turner said. “Given the opportunity, that is where I like to eat and that is where I spend my money. I think that opportunity exists in limited amounts in Woodstock.”

The city would pay for decorative traffic barriers, planters and lighting for ambiance. Staff estimates indicate the city could pay up to $20,000 for the traffic barriers. Lights and power source costs could top $10,000. Proposed benches cost about $1,600 each, according to city documents.

City officials approved $50,000 in the fiscal 2017-18 budget to go toward finding ways to make Benton Street more pedestrian-friendly.

Creating outdoor dining space would add ambiance and bring more people to the area, which would be good for businesses and help achieve the City Council’s goal to improve Benton Street, Turner said.

Not all agreed with the plan.

“I don’t think we should be doing this in the public right of way,” said council member Jim Prindiville. “I think we need to do things that benefit the largest number of businesses when we do things in the public right of way. We need to conserve our resources in the TIF district.”

The majority of council members said they wanted to explore the idea.

“It’s an interesting idea. I like the concept,” council member Mark Saladin said. “I see this as a temporary-type thing. I’m a little concerned about the parking situation, possibly for the bar owners. … I think there are a lot of positives to it, with some concerns.”

Resident Jenn Feeley, who lives a block away from the area, said she was excited about the prospect.

“One of the things I like about where I live is that whole idea of this being an urban area,” she said. “You can walk to different things and I’d like to see more of that.”

Some questioned why the city would spend its own money on something that could be perceived as a way to help private businesses. Woodstock resident Lisa Hanson said in a way it looked as if the city was playing favorites and pointed to a recent request from Rosati’s Pizza for outdoor dining, which was approved at the council’s Tuesday meeting.

“I’m not sure why [we would use] city funds or taxpayer funds,” Hanson said. “It’s kind of like Rosati’s request tonight. We didn’t pay for their enclosures. … to buy the barriers, I don’t think that’s appropriate.”

The City Council plans to consider the concept further at a future meeting.

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