Cocktail lovers at St. Louis Park distilleries will be able to swirl their drinks outside.

City ordinance has barred outdoor seating in the general industrial zoning district, but a city emergency order due to the pandemic allowed businesses to open temporary outdoor seating areas in places they normally would not be allowed.

Dampfwerk Distillery, 6311 Cambridge St., opened a temporary outdoor seating area last year but sought a city code change to allow permanent outdoor seating when the emergency order ends. City code would otherwise only have allowed outdoor seating for employee break areas in the district.

The St. Louis Park City Council voted Feb. 16 to allow permanent seating with a few rules. A wall must separate outdoor seating from residential areas, and sound limits would apply when located within 500 feet of a residence. When that close to a home, hours would be limited to 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The business would not need to add parking unless the outdoor seating is larger than 500 square feet or is larger than 10% of the building area.

A city staff report indicated that nearby businesses like Copperwing Distillery and Warehouse Winery could also benefit from the change. The change would allow such businesses to use outdoor seating like businesses in other districts, the report notes.

In its application, Dampfwerk Distillery sought the ability to provide recorded or live outdoor music. In other zoning districts, speakers are not allowed when outdoor seating is located near a residential area.

However, city staff investigated how other cities accommodate music in outdoor settings. Staff found that other cities commonly allow music with conditions like those they proposed in the St. Louis Park ordinance change.

“Music is allowed if it is not louder than the conversation typical of the outdoor seating area,” staff said of the ordinance amendment’s intent. “This will limit the type of music allowed and the type of equipment allowed in some areas depending on the proximity to residential uses.”

Mayor Jake Spano focused on any safety issues that could arise.

Assistant Zoning Administrator Gary Morrison responded that city staff does consider safety for such applications, particularly for outdoor seating areas located next to a city sidewalk.

“That is a major concern that we have, and we take that into consideration when we’re reviewing these applications,” Morrison said.

Spano asked about potential requirements for bollards, flags or signs near such seating areas. The city does require fencing to contain seating areas when outdoor seating encroaches into the public sidewalk, such as the West End, Morrison said. The city does not have such requirements for seating areas located on private property, such as in parking lots, but does review plans on a case-by-case basis.

At Dampfwerk and Copperwing, vehicle traffic would pass nearby the areas without a sidewalk in between, Spano observed, adding that he hoped city staff would make safety an area of emphasis.

Councilmember Larry Kraft asked why city code had forbidden outdoor seating in the district. Morrison said historically businesses in the district had not sought it.

“It isn’t until the advent of the taproom and the cocktail room, which are fairly new to St. Louis Park, that we now have a need,” Morrison said. “Copperwing and Dampfwerk both are just a couple years old, and they both established themselves as distilleries only with no intent of a cocktail room. But that has changed as their business plan has changed and they had some success.”

Industrial uses typically operate during the day while the cocktail rooms are more active during evening hours, Morrison said. Industrial properties are locked up at night, thus minimizing traffic, he said, “Then there seems to be a fit that we can accommodate in some areas.”

Councilmember Tim Brausen pointed out that other businesses in industrial-type areas, like Steel Toe Brewing, have been able to provide outdoor seating.

“It doesn’t seem to be much of a safety concern,” Brausen said. “There are cars that are parked around there, but people are aware also they’re coming to an outdoor space for entertainment, so I think people are appropriately cautious.”

He described the ordinance change as leveling the playing field for businesses located in a slightly different zoning district.

The council voted unanimously to make the change with a final vote scheduled Monday, March 1.

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