City Park Dining Proposal Polarizes Old Town Auburn

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AUBURN --

The Auburn Planning Committee will take up a controversial proposal by an Old Town Auburn restaurant to have outdoor dining at an adjacent city park.

Herschel Young Park looks more like the patio of the Bistro 103 restaurant than a city park. The space has a bulletin board, recycle bins and newspaper vending machines, but there is no sign letting the public know it's a park.

Bistro 103 owner Patty Dooley said her restaurant's windows look out into the patio/park, and she says transients who frequent it discourage family use of the park.

"Everyone says the same thing, it is underutilized and how come you're not using it? They think it belongs to us, and it doesn't," Dooley said.

Her proposal to have outdoor dining Friday through Sunday does not sit well with some other restaurants in Old Town that think the restaurant wants to exploit a city asset.

Others like Old Town shop owner Linda Robinson says having the restaurant take up half the space with tables will discourage use by the general public.

"It's the focus of our community...it belongs to the city, it’s paid for by taxpayers, and it's our little park," Robinson said.

Robinson has had her Sun River Clothing Company store across the street from the park for 21 years and organizes holiday and special events at the park.

Deanna Gomez was taking her lunch break in the park and said it would be great to have outdoor dining there.

"I think people walking by seeing people enjoying meals out here on this porch would be a nice thing to see," said Gomez, who has lived in Auburn for 18 years.

Gomez said a good compromise would be to have tables in the back, and public access at the front so "everybody wins,"

Dooley says she's gathered 100 signatures just over the weekend from Auburn-area patrons who want to see outdoor dining in the space.

But for now, it's a struggle convincing rival restaurants that she's not out to "privatize" a city asset for her benefit.

Dooley says she may not make anymore money with the added dining outdoors. Instead, she says it will be a long-term benefit for Old Town Auburn.

"Better is better... it benefits everyone, every single retailer and every single restaurant," Dooley said.

The proposal has polarized businesses in Old Town as well as the city council.

The Planning Commission will examine the proposal and recommend a course of action to the city council, which might not happen before the year is out.