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Franklin restaurant wants to expand outdoor seating

Root + Barrel, a restaurant in downtown Franklin, is requesting the town council’s permission to expand outdoor seating in the alley way between town hall. File photo Root + Barrel, a restaurant in downtown Franklin, is requesting the town council’s permission to expand outdoor seating in the alley way between town hall. File photo

As the Coronavirus Pandemic continues to impact local businesses, restaurants and bars have been trying to look for ways to expand their outdoor seating capacities.

Brett Murphy, one of the owners of Root + Barrel Kitchen in downtown Franklin, came before the town council Monday night to explore the possibility of expanding the restaurant’s outdoor seating on the side of the building. Municipal government typically wouldn’t have to get involved in approving such a plan, but the Root + Barrel building presents a unique challenge. The building is located next to town hall and the town owns the alley way in between the buildings. According to Town Attorney John Henning Jr., the town owns the property all the way up to the side of the restaurant’s building, which means any improvements or expansions on the side would be done on town property and require some kind of a lease. 

Murphy said he would like to be able to add 40 more seats in the alley, which would mean an additional 20 seats during the 50 percent capacity COVID-19 orders. Normal full capacity inside is 150, Murphy said. ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Commission) regulations would also require Root + Barrel to put up some sort of barrier around the outdoor seating to be able to serve alcohol. 

“We’d like to clean it up and do some landscaping buffers between the sidewalk and the seating area,” he told council. 

Councilmember David Culpepper said allowing for more outdoor seating was a specific goal outlined in the town’s Comprehensive Land Development Plan, which was approved by the board last month. 

“One element we talked about was converting alley ways into dining opportunities and this goes along with that perfectly,” he said. 

Murphy said the restaurant would also love to open up that alley space a little more by removing a couple of the trees and having a mural painted on the side of the building to add more public art like Sylva and Waynesville. 

Since the space is right next door to town hall, Councilmember Joe Collins suggested the board take a short trip over to get a better look at the alley, but the board decided to wait until the end of the meeting to do so. 

Mayor Bob Scott wasn’t as open to the idea as the other councilmembers. Allowing a private business to expand their operations onto town property, he said, could start an unwanted precedent for other businesses making similar requests. 

“I’m not so sure with doing something like this you shouldn’t have a public hearing about it,” he said. “It sounds like a pretty permanent thing to me.”

While Murphy said one idea was to install a concrete pad for the outdoor patio seating, he said there were alternative plans to just use gravel if the town didn’t approve the concrete installation. A concrete pad would provide ADA accessibility, but the gravel would not. 

“We’re looking for at least a three- to 10-year lease because we’re looking at investing $20,000 into the project,” he said.

Again, Scott asked the council what they planned to do if other businesses came forward with similar requests. 

Councilmembers Culpepper and Mike Lewis said they’d love to see more businesses coming before them to expand their businesses in a way that is congruent with the town’s new comprehensive plan. 

The town council agreed to gather some more information about the project and look at the space before discussing it again at the next regular board meeting in August. 

It’s not the first time the restaurant and the town have run into an issue with their shared space in the alley way. Council was unhappy with owners of The Bowery Restaurant when they installed a side entrance between the buildings without asking for the town’s permission. The restaurant owners also came before the town in 2016 to ask if the town would be willing to keep the gate open and unlocked between the restaurant’s back parking lot and the town hall’s parking lot. However, the town wanted to keep it closed to prevent people from using it as a short cut through the town’s parking lot.

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