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South Side restaurant fights for sidewalk dining

Penny Folino thought she had done everything by the book when she installed a fence to section off the sidewalk seating at her South Side restaurant.

But now the barrier at Folino's Ristorante is the center of a controversy over sidewalk encroachments.

Just before Election Day, Bruce Kraus, a candidate for City Council, visited a council meeting to speak out against the fence.

Now Councilman-Elect for District 3, Kraus attended yesterday's public hearing on the matter, arguing that the fence is a permanent structure and therefore in violation of city code, which requires that sidewalk cafes have removable barriers.

Councilman Jeff Koch, whom Kraus will replace in January, argues that a fence like Folino's actually helps businesses stick to code, which also requires that five feet of sidewalk is left open for pedestrian traffic. Ropes or cones can be easily moved to "steal an extra two feet of the sidewalk," he said. Folino's fence leaves seven feet of sidewalk space.

The fenced-in area -- which has been removed for the winter -- was popular with customers, who said it reminded them of cafes in New York City or Chicago, Folino said. And it attracted an upscale crowd, she added.

"I bring in clients that are dream clients," she said. "I don't let the drunks sit out there and drink all night."

But Kraus disagrees. He says structures like the Folino's fence bring the bar scene outside into the public space.

Kraus said he wants to change the perception that East Carson Street is just a place where people go to drink.

Folino said her restaurant has been singled out, and pointed to the permanent railing in front of Carson City Saloon three blocks down.

At yesterday's hearing, Kraus characterized Folino's fence as an anomaly, saying the saloon's railing is part of a handicapped ramp constructed when the building was a bank.

South Side resident Wanda Jankoski testified that Folino's fence was an obstruction that has forced wheelchair users and dog walkers onto the street.

Jeff Edwards, whose wife owns the nearby Chocolate Celebrations store, said Folino's "stuck their chin out there" to try something good for the neighborhood.

Sidewalk seating is just one piece of the puzzle and business owners should work together to beautify their blocks, Edwards said.

The council made no decision at yesterday's hearing. After discovering that the city's Public Works department and Historic Review Commission had differing definitions of a permanent structure, council president Doug Shields said the need for a public hearing about a fence represents a "failure in the system."

"A business owner needs to know what the heck the landscape is," he said.

Kraus said he expected the city's legal department would review the matter to create a more precise definition of permanence.

Additional Information:

Sidewalk dining

It might be chilly now, but you'll want to keep these eateries in mind when warm weather rolls around again:

&#149 Girasole, Shadyside: Modern Italian cuisine that changes with the seasons, served in a romantic setting.

&#149 Murray Avenue Grill, Squirrel Hill: A closely clustered group of tables puts diners in the middle of the Squirrel Hill scene.

&#149 Silky's Pub, Bloomfield: Enjoy a pint and a Philly cheesesteak at a welcoming neighborhood favorite.

&#149 Crazy Mocha, various locations: Many of the local chain's stores have sidewalk tables where you can sip lattes and use their complementary wireless Internet on your laptop.

&#149 Double Wide Grill, South Side: Redneck chic meets good eats on a large outdoor patio decorated with authentic Americana.

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