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Seattle requires permits for flowers, flags

The owners of a Georgetown cafe were shocked to get a $172 "street use" bill this month for the flowers they'd had outside their cafe for the last six years. (Photo courtesy of Two Tartes Cafe & Catering)

A small business owner was shocked when she got a notice from the City of Seattle this month saying that she needed a permit for flowers in front her cafe.

Sue Benyak decided to call the Dori Monson Show to highlight the issue.

Sue and her business partner have run the Two Tartes Cafe in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood for over five years. They wanted to make their store front more cheerful, so they planted flowers in whiskey barrel planters on the sidewalk in front of their cafe.

For five years they’ve had their festive flowers at their store on Airport way. But this month they got a notice that they had to apply for a $175 “Street Use” permit.

The notice says they have to pay the fee and a submit a “site use plan” to qualify for the permit.

Sue says she already pays a $140 to have a small flag hanging on the building with their cafe’s name on it. She thinks that this extra charge, after six years, is excessive and an undue hardship.

Sue and Dori see the planters as a service to the neighborhood.

“Airport way isn’t exactly the most attractive road in town,” said Sue. “Tons of dust. We’re pretty much the only people that have anything remotely attractive in front of our building.”

She also says her landlord has seen the planters, and has never asked her to move them.

Dori tried to see the situation from the City’s perspective.

“The sidewalk is city property,” said Dori. “Why shouldn’t they have the right to control what’s on their property, and say hey, we’ll let you use a little slice of our property and basically make you pay rent for it?”

But Georgetown, said Sue, is more industrial than areas downtown where big groups of pedestrians and cyclists mob the streets and sidewalks.

It was clear to Sue that the planters have never been an obstruction; it seemed like the city just wanted her to pay for the privilege of using the space.

“I just think that it’s insane that we’re just picking, picking, picking at small business owners,” said Dori. “It’s like government treats you guys like an adversary, instead of a provider of everything they’re able to do as a government.”

The Dori Monson Show’s calls and emails to the Department of Transportation’s Street Use Division and the representative who issued the ticket did not immediately get a response.

Read Sue’s email to Dori and tell us what you think:

Hi Dori – Knowing that you are as annoyed with the City of Seattle and their ridiculous fees and charges as I am, I thought you would be interested in this one. I own a small business down in Georgetown, which, as you probably know, is not the cleanest neighborhood in town. My partner and I have had whiskey barrel planters outside our place for the last 6 years. Within the last month we received a “Street Warning Use” violation from the city, stating that if we want to have the planters out there, we need to obtain a $172 permit. Seriously? Pardon me for wanting our dusty street beautified a bit by flowers that WE pay for . . . .but really? They also charge us for a small flag attached to the side of the building with our business name on it. . . .another fee of $140 per year. This city does everything it can to nickel and dime small businesses into the ground. Thought you’d want to know. MEH!

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