Miami Beach commission sets new sidewalk café guidelines for Ocean Drive

Rules are supposed to ease foot traffic and clear congestion on trouble-plagued street

Jan.January 12, 2017 02:15 PM

Sitting at a sidewalk café on Ocean Drive could become a more pleasant experience after the Miami Beach City Commission on Wednesday set new standards and guidelines for sidewalk cafes between 5th Street and 15th Street.   

For years residents and visitors have complained about the so-called “tunnel effect” of hundreds of oversize umbrellas and crowded tables that blot out the sky and force pedestrians out onto heavily-trafficked Ocean Drive as they attempt to walk down the iconic street.   

The new guidelines include: limiting the amount of umbrellas that can be zipped together to three, requiring sidewalk café operators to maintain a clear pedestrian path of a minimum of 5 feet and banning all café furnishings from encroaching into public walking areas.

The guidelines also limit umbrella width to a maximum of 10 feet and canopy height to seven feet. The commission gave café owners 30 days to comply with the guidelines. While pedestrians have complained for years about the tunnel effect, many sidewalk café proprietors have said the density of umbrellas is for a reason: to keep their customers dry from the frequent rainstorms that they say can ruin a meal.   

The newly approved ordinance was sponsored by commissioner Ricky Arriola as part of his 10-point plan for cleaning up Ocean Drive, which has seen spike in crime and disorder in recent years. Arriola’s plan prioritizes a set of 29 recommendations suggested by the Mayor’s Ocean Drive Task Force, which was made up of business owners on Ocean Drive. Both plans called for better lighting on the street, adding about a dozen police officers to foot patrols, especially at night, and the creation of a Business Improvement District made up of business owners who agree to tax themselves to pay for improvements and increased security.    

While Ocean Drive is still a magnet for millions of tourists every year, most locals avoid it. Last year Mayor Philip Levine proposed an ordinance that would have forced Ocean Drive establishments to move last call from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m., but the measure received little support from the business community or the city commission.

Police officials say steeped up patrols have lowered crime recently, but a series of shootings and two murders on the street last year have some business owners and residents saying more needs to be done.  

Mitch Novick, who owns the Sherbrooke Hotel at 9th Street and Collins just around the corner from Ocean Drive told commissioners that “crime exploded during Christmas week,” and that “open-air entertainment and the assaulting noise associated with it is the crux of the of the problem. Novick has long called for more restrictive zoning on Ocean Drive to limit open-air bars and nightclubs. “What’s happening has never been a police issue, it’s always been a zoning issue,” he told commissioners on Wednesday.    

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