Mundelein proposes annual fees of up to $1,500 for outdoor dining licenses

Mundelein restaurants would have to pay annual license fees ranging from $500 to $1,500 to offer dining on sidewalks, streets and other public property, under a proposal moving forward at village hall.

Food trucks and food carts doing business on public property in Mundelein also would face annual fees of $150 or $350, depending on whether they're part of local brick-and-mortar operations.

The village board this week unanimously agreed to direct staffers to draft an ordinance establishing the fees. A final vote could come Jan. 10, Village Administrator Eric Guenther said.

How it began

The proposal follows the second season of outdoor dining on Park Street in downtown Mundelein. That's the only area in town that has offered dining on public streets or sidewalks.

Launched to help restaurateurs during the COVID-19 crisis, the operation proved popular.

Portable barriers close the road to cars for about one block east of Route 45. That allows Area Coffee, Tina G's and the Park Street Restaurant to serve customers at tables and chairs on the roadway.

The street closure extends east to Seymour Avenue on Friday afternoons for a farmers market.

Similar efforts have been successful in Arlington Heights, St. Charles, Wheaton and other towns.

Why charge fees?

Mundelein trustees voted in June to create a licensing program for outdoor dining operations, but they held off on establishing fees.

The delay gave officials time to study the issue and talk with merchants who would be affected, Mayor Steve Lentz said.

The revenue is supposed to help offset the village's costs for garbage collection, installing and watering plants, installing signs and other associated services, officials have said. For the Park Street area, they come to about $20,500 annually, Community Development Director Amanda Orenchuk wrote in a memo to the village board.

"(These are) recurring costs for shutting down the street and maintaining a clean and attractive area," Orenchuk wrote.

The current proposal calls for an annual base license fee of $500 plus 15 cents per gross square foot of outdoor public space used. The fee would be capped at $1,500 annually.

Food trucks and mobile food vending carts with brick-and-mortar operations in Mundelein would be charged $150 per year. Those without local connections would be charged $350.

To come up with the fee structure, village employees investigated what some other communities charge for outdoor dining or sidewalk cafes.

Their research revealed Evanston restaurants are assessed a fee based on the size of the public space they use - although the fee has been waived during the pandemic. Chicago charges a flat $600, while Geneva charges a flat $50 fee.

Other towns start with base fees and add on for square footage used.

Prices for food truck licenses vary, too.

"Our village board and staff have gone (to) great lengths to make sure that our fee schedule is in the ballpark of what other communities charge," Lentz said.

Not all towns with outdoor dining promotions charge businesses, however.

Outdoor dining permits in St. Charles are free. Eateries in Arlington Heights don't pay for outdoor dining, either, but officials there have proposed an additional sales tax for diners at some downtown restaurants to cover maintenance expenses during the popular Arlington Alfresco promotion.

'An added expense'

One of the merchants set to be affected by Mundelein's licensing program, Area Coffee's Frank Mahar, is unhappy with the proposed fee.

Mahar estimated it'll cost him about $100 a month for the six or seven months Area serves customers outdoors on Park Street, and that's an unwanted bite for a business specializing in small-ticket items.

"It's not going to break us - it's just an added expense," said Mahar, who co-owns Area with his wife, Kirstin.

Still, Mahar said he'll continue setting up tables and chairs on Park Street because it benefits the community.

Lentz defended the proposed fees.

"The village is investing public money that disproportionately benefits a few businesses over others and allows their table space to double for six months each year," he said. "It is thus very reasonable to charge an annual license fee."

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  Mundelein restaurants that serve customers on the Park Street roadway during warmer months will have to buy annual licenses for the privilege. Officials haven't yet set prices, however. Paul Valade/
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