Laramie business owners told the Laramie City Council they were caught off guard Tuesday by a patio area fee schedule resolution, which cost the businesses thousands of dollars yearly.
During the council’s regular meeting, the council postponed a resolution to install a $10 per square foot fee for businesses requesting to put fixtures in the right-of-way, such as Coal Creek TAP’s patio area.
“We really don’t have a fee system established for businesses downtown,” Laramie City Engineer Eric Jaap said. “A lot of businesses have been talking to our office about moving forward with opportunities like this. (The resolution) was business driven.”
Because the fee schedule was presented in a resolution, the council would only need to approve it once before it went into effect — unlike an ordinance, which requires three readings and approvals before taking effect.
Laramie business owners said they were taken aback by the lack of communication of the fee-schedule process and requested more time to talk with council about installing reasonable fees.
“It’s a concern for me because I didn’t hear about it until (the Laramie Main Street Alliance) brought it up,” said Jodi Guerin, a Coal Creek TAP co-owner and city employee. “I certainly would like to have some conversations with people with an interest in it. It seems like we should be able to come up with some kind of reasonable fee schedule that appreciates the city has some interest in that right-of-way.”
Coal Creek TAP was the first business in downtown to install a patio, but it would not be grandfathered in if the fee schedule was approved, Jaap said.
Jodi Guerin’s husband and fellow Coal Creek TAP co-owner, John Guerin, said if the fee was approved, it could cost Coal Creek TAP $2,500 a year, which is more than the business pays for both its liquor licenses combined.
Main Street Executive Director Trey Sherwood said she was notified about the resolution May 2, about 12 days before the meeting. But she said many of her questions about how the resolution would be implemented went unanswered until a day or two before Tuesday.
Laramie City Manager Janine Jordan said she emailed Main Street about some of their concerns Monday.
Shantel Anderson, the Laramie Main Street Alliance chair and a local business owner, said in addition to the short notice, the fee schedule was exorbitant.
“While I understand the city of Laramie is looking for ways to increase revenue streams, the $10-per-square-foot fee is pretty high,” Anderson said. “The current amount of rent for a space downtown is only $7 a square foot, so we would be paying more than we are paying for inside space than to utilize the city’s outside space.”
Councilor Charles McKinney seemed to agree with Anderson.
“That doesn’t seem fair,” McKinney said.
Vice Mayor Jayne Pearce said she was not opposed to the resolution. She also suggested city staff should look into creating an ordinance requiring all patio areas be fenced in, instead of just the patios where alcohol is served.
“It would be far more enjoyable to sit outside and enjoy your lunch without having to worry about somebody bumping into your elbow or something,” Pearce said.
Laramie City Clerk Angie Johnson told the council any business could voluntarily put up a fence around a patio, but the state only required businesses to install a fence if alcohol would be served in the area.
“That seems unfortunate,” Pearce said.
Councilor Dave Paulekas said he could support a fee schedule, but he needed to see more research about lease prices before approving a fee price.
“I think it’s fair, and I think we need to move forward with something,” Paulekas said. “But I don’t think I have the information I need to make a decision.”
Mayor Andi Summerville said she saw a need for the fee schedule, but was in favor of postponing a vote on the item until more information was provided to local business owners.
“I am supportive of the fee schedule,” Summerville said. “But for clarity for the community, the resolution could use some word smithing.”
The resolution was postponed by a vote of 8-1, with Pearce voting against.