To address ongoing capacity restrictions due to COVID-19, and provide an outdoor dining option, some Edmonds restaurants last summer took advantage of a temporary city event permit for curbside dining areas. Now, City of Edmonds staff is working to finalize details of two code updates that would allow restaurants to continue the practice — with enhanced safety regulations and specific design standards.
City Development Director Shane Hope shared the progress of that legislation during an update Thursday night to the Edmonds City Council’s Public Safety, Planning and Personnel Committee,
Originally, when the city launched the temporary permitting process for curbside dining, “we did not know how long this would last,” Hope said. “We actually thought it would get settled in three or four months and that would be that — or that the weather would overtake things and that wouldn’t be the desirable choice.” However, restaurants are continuing the practice — even during cooler weather — because some customers prefer it, Hope said.
“This provides an option for people that don’t want to sit inside and prefer not to eat a takeout option but they like a little bit of the camaraderie, the feeling of being in town, seeing things happen around,” Hope said.
She also introduced the term “streateries” to describe the commercial dining spaces that are in the right-of-way, typically using a vehicle parking space. The first code update would apply to these dining spaces.
The second code update would apply to property not located on a right-of-way, such as an existing restaurant, cafe or coffee shop that has outdoor space on its own property. (The patio outside Red Twig in downtown Edmonds is one example.) Under this update, on-site outdoor dining spaces would not be required to get a time-consuming and costly conditional use permit, but could instead follow “a straight-forward permitting process,” so long as safety and other city standards are met, Hope explained.
The code update regarding streateries could be adopted this year as an amendment to Title 18 of the code, which does not require Edmonds Planning Board review. Hope stressed that the city evisions this change “as a pilot project or temporary for one to two years, and subject to change later.” The second code update could be adopted immediately as an interim ordinance to amend Title 17 of the code without Planning Board review. A more permanent version, with any revisions, could be adopted in early 2021 after Planning Board review, she said.
When it comes to the streateries, a key driver for the new regulations is to ensure that they “are as safe as possible,” Hope said. The maximum length would be two vehicle parking spaces and each must meet city fire and electrical codes, as well as state and county health district standards.
A major change required for the current streateries, Hope said, would be providing ADA access. “Right now the streateries that are there do not have easy access for ADA purposes,” she said. “You actually have to be able to step down off the curb or use a ramp and go around into the street.” The proposed code change would require streateries to have a raised platform flush with the sidewalk so the eating areas are accessible directly from the curb. This accommodation — along with all other code requirements — would be paid for by the business, Hope said.
The city also is looking at ways to encourage a coordinated look among the streateries, for asthetics purposes. Ideas include having a limited choice of colors for canopies or umbrellas, but those ideas are still being refined. Another consideration is whether the city should limit the number of streateries allowed.
A streatery would receive a permit — what type of permit has not yet been determined — that would require a building and fire inspection. Permits woud be processed quickly and the fee would be low (perhaps $100 a year), “given that the businesses themselves must come up with all the other expenses,” Hope said. Liability insurance would also be required.
Heaters are another area of focus, Hope said. Some Edmonds businesses have put out propane-type heaters but the city has concerns about the flames, she said, adding that most cities are not allowing those. Electric heaters are also problematic due to exposed wires and related safety issues.
Councilmember Laura Johnson asked about the dangers that severe weather — such as heavy rain or wind — could present to outdoor eateries. Hope replied that city staff and fire officials would inspect the structures and canopies to make sure they are secure.
Johnson also asked how the city would ensure that there was appropriate distancing between tables to keep customers safe. Hope replied that it would be up to the restaurant to enforce the distancing, adding that not doing so would be a code violation. “They could lose their ability to do that streatery,” she said.
Staff anticipates having the draft code amendments ready for discussion at the city council’s Nov. 24 meeting.
— By Teresa Wippel