By Olivia Anderson | [email protected]
City Council voted during its Saturday public hearing to extend a temporary business relief program implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic until the permanent program kicks in on Oct. 1.
Some of the program initiatives include things residents and businesses have become accustomed to during the pandemic, like curbside delivery and pick-up service; the suspension of hours of operation regulations; the sale of alcohol to go and the ability to set up parklets, or outdoor dining on sidewalks, parking lots and, in certain cases, parking spaces outside businesses. The city’s state of emergency will end on the same day, Sept. 30, marking the conclusion of a 30-month run since the pandemic began in March 2020.
Although the temporary program was originally set to expire on April 1, staff recommended extending it through June 30. But at the March 8 legislative meeting council opted to delay the start of a permanent parklet program until Oct. 1 which, without Saturday’s approval, would have left a six-month limbo period without any permit program in place.
During the public hearing, Councilor Sarah Bagley questioned what to do with underutilized parklets. She speculated that the permitting process might goad certain business owners to give back the parking spot or remove tables from the parklets.
“If we blanket extend this through Sept. 30, we lose the ability to talk with some of those business owners potentially about how they effectively plan to use it,” Bagley said.
She asked if there is a tool to work with the retailers who may be underutilizing their parklet.
Staff said that enforcement action may take place, since the zoning ordinance includes a section stating that retail operations must have displays and operate out of that parking space while open.
One speaker, Margaret Hayek, expressed concerns regarding some of the outdoor dining changes proposed at the March 8 legislative meeting, such as regulating and charging fees for the parklets. Many restaurant owners said they believed the proposed fees were too high.
If approved, businesses along and one block north and south of King Street would pay $3,000 per parking spot per year. Other commercial areas such as Carlyle would pay about $2,000 per spot per year, and low-income areas such as Arlandria would pay $1,000 per spot per year.
During public comment, Hayek called outdoor dining “a joint benefit” to both the city and restaurants and called for a decrease in the fee.
“The increase in meals tax as a direct result of the parklet dining is and will continue to drive revenue to the city. We ask that the fees be adjusted to reflect the joint benefit and the partnership between the restaurants offering parklet dining and the city,” Hayek said.
Mayor Justin Wilson clarified that while her request is valid and will be discussed in depth at a later date, it was not directly related to the docket item council would be voting on that day.
Vice Mayor Amy Jackson moved to approve the extension and Councilor John Chapman seconded. The motion passed unanimously, 7-0.