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Spokane clears path for sidewalk eateries; more action to help restaurants reopen expected

UPDATED: Thu., May 21, 2020

April Cathcart enjoys a bowl of pho at the Vien Dong Vietnamese restaurant at 1703 E. Sprague Ave. on Sept 21, 2017. The Spokane City Council took action designed to speed up how quickly restaurants can get permission to operate on the sidewalk, street or parking lot. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
April Cathcart enjoys a bowl of pho at the Vien Dong Vietnamese restaurant at 1703 E. Sprague Ave. on Sept 21, 2017. The Spokane City Council took action designed to speed up how quickly restaurants can get permission to operate on the sidewalk, street or parking lot. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

After the talking the talk, the Spokane City Council walked the walk – the sidewalk, that is.

On Thursday, the council took swift action aimed at reducing the lag time between filing an application and receiving city permission to operate on a sidewalk, street or parking lot.

It’s the first of several steps, led by Councilwoman Lori Kinnear and city staff members, that the city is expected to take to allow restaurants to expand their footprints.

“This effort today is part of a suite of actions,” said Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs.

On Thursday, the council also penned a letter to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board asking it to ease restrictions on the proximity of alcohol sales to a restaurant’s entrance.

The emergency ordinance, adopted unanimously on Thursday by the council, is meant to help businesses that will continue to struggle even as Spokane eventually enters Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start Washington reopening plan.

Phase 2 will allow restaurants to reopen, but limit their capacity.

By making it easier to spread onto sidewalks, nearby parking lots and even into the street, the council hopes businesses will be able to safely take on more customers – and, in doing so, make more money.

Now, when a restaurant or retailer applies for a sidewalk cafe permit from the city, they will not be subject to an administrative hearing. Instead, the public and abutting property owners will have 10 days after the application is filed to raise any red flags to the city, which will then make its decision.

The administrative review used to take place after the public comment period, but now those processes will happen simultaneously.

“We think this will really help applications, and it just ties in perfectly right now to assist businesses and make sure we can expedite these reviews,” said Tami Palmquist, a planner with the city of Spokane.

The city will also waive application fees for sidewalk cafe, streatery and parklet permits.

In the next phase of its efforts to help restaurants and businesses expand, Palmquist said the city plans to issue an executive order from Mayor Nadine Woodward, and have the City Council adopt a resolution, that would further reduce regulations.

Even as Spokane progresses along Inslee’s phased reopening plan, restaurant owners have said making a profit will be tough. Guidelines for restaurants include limiting occupancy to 50% capacity.

In its letter to the state liquor board, the council asked that licensed restaurants be allowed to continue to sell alcohol in areas approved by the city, even when they are not directly connected to the restaurant.

“This request is meant to help struggling bars and restaurants comply with Governor Inslee’s social distancing requirements while maximizing their service capacity,” the letter states.

Councilman Michael Cathcart called the letter, which was drafted by Kinnear, “a great idea.”

“It’s pretty reasonable to do, especially given the circumstances,” Cathcart said.

The city will also consider special events applications from restaurants that, in essence, would permit them to close all or part of a street and convert it into an al fresco dining space.

But there are several factors that will be in play as the city decides how to expand the use of sidewalks, curbside parking spaces and parking lots near restaurants and businesses.

The city will weigh how many parklets and streateries to allow in a single block and their potential impact on access to parking, which has become important to businesses as they increasingly rely on curbside pickup. Accessibility and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act will also have to be considered, according to Palmquist.

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