Monday, August 3, 2020

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Moab, UT

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    Al fresco: COVID-19 pushes city to permit outdoor dining

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    Doug McMurdo
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    The City of Moab in the coming weeks will have in place a system to permit restaurants that want to provide outdoor dining amid the coronavirus pandemic.

    People sit down to dine outdoors
    Diners eat outdoors at the Peace Tree Juice Café Wednesday. The Moab City Council is moving to allow all Moab restaurants to provide al fresco dining options, using city rights of way or private property in some cases. Photo by Doug McMurdo

    There will be rules, chief among them is that the option won’t be available on Main Street as that is the domain of the Utah Department of Transportation.

    The goal as explained by City Planner Nora Shepard at Tuesday’s meeting is to ease the economic hardship the pandemic has created by temporarily staying some of the city’s provisions regarding outdoor dining and allow them to set up temporary dining areas in city rights of way. This would be done in the form of an emergency order issued by City Manager Joel Linares.

    Distancing guidelines would still have to be followed and businesses would have to apply for a license, but the goal is to streamline the process so the project could “move forward as quickly as we can,” said Shepard, who also said she’s fielding phone calls from businesses “every day.”

    Shepard said she continues to research what other communities are doing. She cited Palisade, Colorado, where restaurants have used barriers such as corral or wooden fencing that reach out into the street.

    Based on staff recommendations, Shepard initially proposed limiting the al fresco dining option from Thursday evening through Sunday with an eye on not disrupting neighboring businesses during the week, as well as permit street cleaning and other maintenance to take place.

    While the weekends-only plan would lessen the impact to non-restaurant “9 to 5” businesses, Mayor Emily Niehaus recommended allowing outdoor dining to take place daily, a sentiment a majority of the council supported – with the caveat that those businesses speak to neighboring businesses ahead of time as parking spaces would obviously be lost to the outdoor dining area.

    That was a caveat Vice Mayor Tawny Knuteson-Boyd endorsed. “I like asking them to talk to neighbors,” she said. “I think owners approaching owners could go a long way to mitigate hard feelings.”

    It was suggested a business could use up to three parking spaces, but the decisions will likely be made on a case-by-case basis. Several businesses already provide an outdoor dining option.

    Shepard in response to a question from Council Member Mike Duncan said restaurants fronting Main Street could use the sidewalk providing they maintain sufficient width for pedestrian traffic.

    Leaving the cordoned-off areas up through the week would put the onus of cleaning them up to individual businesses, something restauranteurs would want to do anyway, reasoned the council.

    And while all of this is a “short-term experiment due to COVID,” Shepard suggested al fresco dining could become a permanent fixture, “if we decide it’s a really cool thing.” Zoning code would have to be amended. She noted several Colorado communities and a few in Utah allow it during the warmer months and have done so for years.

    Shepard said she’s talked to three or four businesses about the plan and noted there will have to be two types of licenses, one for eateries that use the city’s right of way and another for those who might use private property, such as a parking lot.

    Other issues that were discussed include concerns over the oftentimes high winds that come through, how to notify businesses that could be impacted by outdoor dining, and the potential need to hold a neighborhood meeting to ensure everyone understands the plan and nobody can say, “I had no idea this was happening.”

    Also, the question of whether restaurants could serve alcohol to al fresco diners is one the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control will have to answer and people will be encouraged to walk or bicycle downtown to mitigate parking issues. Restaurant employees might be asked to park farther away than they normally would.

    Lighting will be allowed and noise regulations will remain in effect, but, “There’s still lots to figure out,” said Linares, who suggested the plan will be ready to implement sometime in August.

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