Restaurant dining in public park OK?

Tsuda's granted 30-day permit for non-exclusive use of the Herschel Young site
By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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Should an Old Town restaurant be allowed to offer food service in a public park? Some neighboring business owners say yes, while others are saying an emphatic no. In early July the city of Auburn issued a non-exclusive 30-day permit for Tsuda’s Old Town Eatery to provide table service in Herschel Young Park, which adjoins the building. Since then, owner Alexandra Hastings-Carnahan has put five wrought-iron tables in the park, and is offering menu service from 5 to 10:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. “I’ve been here for a year and a half and the park is grossly underutilized because people don’t even know it’s there,” she said. “I’m trying to make it a space that will attract people to stay longer, where they can relax outdoors.” But Gary Moffat, owner of Carpe Vino across the street, says the park should be dedicated to public use only. “Jamming it with tables will stop or discourage people from using the park,” he said. “We have a number of retired people who use the park and a lot of local people who have limited sources of entertainment who go there to relax.” City Manager Bob Richardson said it provides an additional opportunity for outdoor dining. “When we went through the process of allowing outdoor dining in the new Streetscape area (of Downtown), we worked with restaurants and provided them with temporary operating permits,” he said. “This gave us an opportunity to work with businesses and develop a policy for permanent use that we then took to City Council for their consideration.” The city is following the same procedure with the park site, he said. “We have issued a temporary operating permit while we are determining other issues,” he explained. “We’ve met once with the Old Town Business Association and will meet again this week. We’ll then begin formulating a permanent policy for use and forward it to the City Council for consideration.” The permit does not authorize Tsuda’s exclusive use of the park, he said. “It requests that Tsuda’s put out tables and chairs that can be used either by their customers or the general public at all times,” Richardson said. Tsuda’s was also required to install signs stating the park is open to the public, he said. Moffat objects to the comparison with Downtown’s Central Square’s Streetscape. “What’s driving this is the fact that Central Square is now being used for outdoor dining,” he said. “The big difference is that facility was designed with outdoor dining in mind. It is a much larger space, open to a number of storefronts that are operated or could be operated by restaurants. It is vastly different than Herschel Young Park.” Another thing that concerns Moffat is the possibility that alcohol would be served in the park. “It is just inconceivable to me that anyone would even attempt to serve wine and beer (or any other alcoholic beverage) on a regular basis in the park,” he said. “Parks are for families. You can’t have alcohol in any park in Auburn without a permit.” Richardson said the permit does not allow alcohol to be served in the park. “The applicant has requested that. However, we haven’t even begun analysis of that for permanent use,” he said. “It brings up a whole series of other issues. It would considerably change the basic principles of the temporary use permit.” Tsuda’s is not currently serving alcohol in the park, Carnahan said. “Alcohol will not be served until the proper procedures are taken and approved,” she said. Another concern for Moffat is that there hasn’t been adequate discussion. “What really troubles me most is that this has been bulldozed through” he said. “It needs to be daylighted so everyone knows what’s going on. I’ve talked to several members of City Council and all of them claim ignorance.” Old Town Business Association Richardson discussed the proposal with the Old Town Business Association in June. At that time, the association voted to support the 30-day permit, allowing time to study the issues and to present the park-use idea to the entire membership at the July meeting. Linda Robinson, president of the Old Town Business Association, supports the 30-day use permit for Tsuda’s in-the-park dining. “We have 15 restaurants and one bar in Old Town,” she said. “By comparison to other small business districts, our visitors have a very (wide range) of dining (choices) and each one provides a special dining experience. With Tsuda’s plan for outdoor dining, it provides another option.” At the same time, she emphasized it is a temporary arrangement. “She has 30 days with the proviso that the Old Town Business Association be kept in the loop,” Robinson said. The park will still be a park, she said. “I think the tables are appropriate for the space there,” Robinson said. “Others will be able to use the park. It is not exclusive to (Tsuda’s) only. Even during her dining hours, other people will be able to come in there.“ Carnahan said that since she added the tables, she’s seeing more people using the park and visitors bringing in food from other eateries. Herschel Young But for Hank Gonzales, owner of the California Club in Old Town, the park has special meaning that he’d like to see preserved. Gonzales was an Auburn City Council member and mayor in the 1970s when Herschel Young, who was the police chief, died. “It was kind of an ignored part of Old Town and so (fellow councilman) Dick Azevedo proposed we fix up the park and name if for Herschel and that’s how it happened,” he said. Gonzales said he doesn’t object to having the extra tables there, as long as they’re open to everyone. “If people want to go in and get a sandwich and bring it out on a paper plate, that’s fine,” he said. “But to start offering service out there, that wasn’t the intent. It’s like a business is taking it over and it shouldn’t be like that.” Richardson will provide a status report on the permit and answer questions at the Old Town Business Association’s general meeting at 8:30 a.m. today at Latitudes Restaurant, 410 Maple St. Reach Gloria Young at