After being cited for code violations by the city of Atlanta for not meeting square footage parking minimums, Cabbagetown bar 97 Estoria is hoping to rally support for a variance to reestablish some of its popular extended patio in the parking lot.
During the early months of the pandemic, the owners expanded outdoor seating beyond the small deck out back, transforming the 23-space parking lot along Wylie Street into a patio, complete with table seating and fire pits. But under city code, the extended patio now requires the bar to include 46 parking spaces.
“Code enforcement has cited Estoria’s extended patio on violations regarding parking and square footage,” an online petition created by the bar reads. “For some reason, Estoria is being scapegoated to enforce antiquated codes that require establishments to have overzealous parking accommodations per square footing.”
The bar engaged District 5 Atlanta City Council representative Liliana Bakhtiari in the fight, after applying for a variance from the city on April 8, seeking to lower that required off-street parking minimum to allow 97 Estoria to designate some spaces in the parking lot for outdoor seating. If approved, the bar would begin the formal variance process in the next few weeks, general manager Katherine Paist tells Eater, who adds that Bakhtiari has been “a huge advocate” in helping them navigate the confusing city code ordinances.
“What parking will look like upon receiving a variance is still being reviewed,” Paist says. “We aren’t asking to completely do away with parking, just enough of a variance that would allow us to expand our square footage.”
A bike rally is planned for Wednesday, April 20, to drum up more community support for the parking lot patio and variance. The event is also meant to further highlight the need to prioritize people over parking in Atlanta and emphasize the exponential growth in foot and bike traffic in the neighborhood since the extension of the Eastside Beltline into Cabbagetown and Reynoldstown.
97 Estoria resides at the corner of Estoria and Wylie, just steps from the Krog Street tunnel and the Beltline, which often becomes crowded with pedestrians walking the trail on sunny days while visiting area businesses and restaurants. Many of these people end up parking at 97 Estoria, says Paist.
“Our parking lot honestly feels more like parking for the Beltline than for the actual business. But it’s been tough enforcing that,” she says. “I don’t think we really want to be one of those businesses that pays someone to boot or tow vehicles.”
City of Atlanta can’t enforce who parks at a business, but can dictate how many off-street parking spaces a business must include based on its square footage. The majority of the bar’s patrons live nearby, most of whom walk, bike, and scooter to 97 Estoria, Paist says. Others use Lyft or Uber.
Requiring a parking minimum per square footage of a restaurant or bar without a way to enforce who parks there puts the onus back on the business, ultimately hurting bars like 97 Estoria, which wants to pack part of its parking lot with people enjoying drinks and nachos, not with cars taking up potential outdoor dining space.
The code enforcement issues 97 Estoria currently faces is a deviation from the city’s previous forward-thinking stance to offer Atlanta restaurants and bars use of on- and off-street parking spaces for outdoor dining. This includes the creation of Atlanta’s parklet program and extensions of outdoor seating into parking lots. Many restaurants throughout the city took advantage of the parklet program or transformed portions of parking lots into patios or table seating to offer more outdoor dining options.
Atlanta appears to be in step with other major cities across the country, including New York, now evaluating how to regulate the pandemic-related expansion of outdoor dining, parklets, and sidewalk seating.
“I don’t think the purpose of these codes are to be a flex on small, local businesses. But everyone keeps saying ‘the code is the code,’ so maybe it’s time to acknowledge the code no longer suits the needs of the district,” says Paist.
Update, April 19, 2:15 p.m.: This story was updated to reflect comments and details from 97 Estoria general manager Katherine Paist.