The Geneva City Council gave its blessing Monday for a temporary tent at Aurelio's, just in time for the Christmas Walk, but not without a split vote and concerns from the owner that Geneva is not "business friendly."
Aurelio's franchise owner Arney Silvestri asked for the city's permission to put up a 30-by-40-foot tent for eight weeks in the area where its summer patio is located, on the southwest side of the popular restaurant at 330 W. State St.
The request to erect the tent was made on Nov. 18, and city staff endorsed the plan with the proviso that six Aurelio's parking spaces north of the tent be kept vacant, due to the 2009 International Fire Code requirement that vehicles must be at least 20 feet from a closed, temporary tent structure.
Silvestri said the city's requests defied common sense, because vehicles' exhausts would be at least 20 feet from the tent, if vehicles park head-in. The tent is also required to have two carbon-monoxide detectors and forced-air heating, which mitigates concerns about public safety, he said.
"This was like going to the dentist to get this done," he said. "I’ve worked with every department in this community, run two successful businesses. We don’t do anything in this community that isn’t first class, top notch. When I run into a lot of snags because we don’t have a clear-cut plan, I run into frustration. It makes it tough to do business. It’s hard to pay the rent, it’s hard to pay the taxes."
The temporary tent will be up for eight weeks, until Jan. 30, and will be used primarily for private parties and for overflow customers expected during the upcoming Christmas Walk weekend.
City Council members listened to Silvestri's concerns during a special Committee of the Whole meeting that preceded Monday's regular City Council meeting, and some felt the parking abdication was overly restrictive.
Fifth Ward Alderman Tom Simonian asked where the 20-foot rule came from and 1st Ward Alderman Chuck Brown said studies have shown that parking spots in Geneva are "worth $10,000 apiece."
"There’s always a tension between making laws more specific and having the ability to be flexible," Brown said. "In my case, I think giving up the parking is kind of silly, but I can understand the process."
"Sometimes common sense has to trump nonsense," Simonian said. "In my opinion, the way carbon monoxide is going to get into a tent is from the heating system, and you’ve got two carbon-monoxide detectors ... Let them park head-in, and I think that would accommodate (the 20-foot separation.)"
Geneva Building Commissioner Dustin Schultze said city staff is in the process of drafting regulations for temporary outdoor uses such as tents and canopies. Staff typically has presented these types of permit applications to the council for review and approval in the interim.
"We could have just said no," Schultze said. "We were directed to try and make it work. ... We were trying to allow some things to make it work on a temporary basis."
Fifth Ward Alderman Craig Maladra suggested that flexibility of city staffers to vary from interpretation of the international codes also opened the door to variance from the parking-proximity requirement.
"We have a code. To me it’s a straightforward thing until we start (making exceptions), then I think it undermines the whole thing," he said. "We’ve already made some exceptions to the code. I think we can save the parking spaces."
Maladra amended the motion to allow the temporary structure and to allow parking in the six spaces on the property with the proviso that the owner put up a sign requiring head-in parking.
The motion passed 7-2, with 3rd Ward Alderman Dawn Vogelsberg and the mayor pro tem, 2nd Ward Alderman Richard Marks, voting nay.
"We have to look at everything objectively, based on the code that we adopted" Vogelsberg said. "When one business gets a little give, another says, 'Why not me?' Even though I’m going to be in a minority, I’m going to stay with the proposal as is."