Part of Benton Street could be reserved for al fresco dining if the City Council moves forward with a proposal to allow restaurants to set up outdoor tables, but not everyone thinks it’s a good plan.

Councilman Mike Turner wants to reserve the west side of Benton Street near the Square, between East Judd and Church streets, for outdoor dining during warm months. Main Street PourHouse, D.C. Cobb’s and Mia Passione all have entrances on Benton Street.

“Eating outdoors is one of those simple pleasures, especially if you live in the northern hemisphere,” Turner said during a discussion at a council meeting May 16. “… As I look at Benton Street, to me, Benton Street is an opportunity to consider an expansion of outdoor dining opportunities.”

The preliminary plan being considered by the council would restrict parking along the west side of Benton Street just south of the railroad tracks, allowing nearby restaurants to set up tables in the street. Through traffic still would be allowed, as would parallel parking on the east side of the street. A landscaped barrier would block the bank of tables from cars. 

Once the cooler months set in, the tables would be removed and parking would return to both sides of Benton Street.

If the proposal is approved, the city would pay for the barriers, a few benches and some decorative lighting, while business owners would need to buy their own tables and chairs as well as flowers for the barriers. According to a City Council document, the barriers could cost up to $20,000, while lighting and a power source could total $10,000. Benches are expected to cost up to $1,600 each.

The city’s 2017-18 budget for its tax increment financing district, which includes Benton Street, has a $50,000 line item for renovating the area.

Councilman Jim Prindiville doesn’t agree with the proposal. 

“I don’t think this is a good idea for the city to be doing in the public right-of-way,” Prindiville said. “… The restaurants now have the opportunity to do this on the sidewalks. This is a lot of money from a TIF district that doesn’t have a lot of money.”

Although they didn’t take a formal vote, most council members said they were open to considering the idea. Among them was Councilman Dan Hart, who owns D.C. Cobb’s. 

“If Woodstock has something like this, it’s what’s going to make people — especially the age group we’re looking for — want to come out this way and say, ‘Hey, I want to come to Woodstock,’” Hart said.

Some residents said using public funds for the project would mean showing favoritism to certain businesses. Woodstock’s Lisa Hanson said the council was putting itself in a position of “picking winners and losers” when it comes to the town’s restaurants.   

“That’s what we’re doing if we’re helping however many businesses that’s going to be,” Hanson said.

“In my opinion, what we’re picking is we’re picking a street,” Turner said. “Whatever business chooses to locate there can take advantage of that, if it happens and if it becomes something that was regular.”

Woodstock’s Jenn Feeley lives on Benton Street. She favors the idea.

“I think there’s a lot of potential here,” Feeley said. “[It’s] good for the residents, good for the businesses.”

If it’s approved, Turner said he would like to see the outdoor dining area open by July 1. The council will consider the proposal again at a future meeting.

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