PITTSFIELD -- The City Council is a step closer to smoothing the way for restaurants to offer outdoor seating.

BY a 5-0 vote, the council Committee on Ordinances and Rules on Monday night unanimously recommended the entire council next week approve city planners' request to streamline the sidewalk cafe permitting process. The city Licensing Board last month endorsed the proposal, which affects those eateries that serve alcohol.

The 11-member council is expected to vote on the city ordinance amendment at its regular meeting at 7 p.m. February 11 in City Hall.

Subcommittee members were pleased with the revision, in part, because it's business-friendly.

"Anything we can do to help the downtown," said Ward 2 Councilor Kevin J. Morandi. "People like to eat outside in the summer."

While the revision affects restaurants citywide, City Planner C. J. Hoss says it realistically impacts the North and South Street area because the sidewalks along most of the corridor are wide enough to accommodate outdoor dining without impeding pedestrian traffic.

Currently, Patrick's Pub along Park Square, Dottie's Coffee Lounge and Mission Bar + Tapas on North Street have sidewalk cafe licenses.

The Marketplace, The Lantern and occasionally Hot Harry's have outdoor seating at right, provided they have 10 or fewer seats.

Among the key changes to the ordinance:

n Initial permits and renewals are approved administratively by the Department of Community Development. Currently, the Community Development Board must give site plan approval.

n First time applicants with liquor licenses must get approval from the Pittsfield Licensing Board and state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. Annual renewals are handled by Department of Community Development staff.

n The city has two weeks to issue a permit, if signed off by police, fire and other appropriate city departments.

n Sidewalk cafes will be allowed year-round; right now it's restricted from May through October.

If approved, the revision to sidewalk cafe seating regulations will still require restaurants to break down the tables, chairs and required barriers no later than 11 p.m.

"If a restaurant wants to keep the furniture outside overnight, they can at their own risk and as long as it doesn't impede pedestrians," Hoss said of another proposed change in the ordinance.

In addition, eateries must maintain lanes for pedestrians and the handicapped into the establishment and comply with zoning, health and safety requirements. The Pittsfield Police Department is responsible for enforcing the ordinance and issuing fines, if warranted.

To reach Dick Lindsay:

rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,

or (413) 496-6233