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With the state allowing restaurants to begin limited on-site dining this week, the Bloomington City Council hosted an emergency meeting last week to help city restaurants capture a piece of that business.

The council unanimously approved an emergency ordinance during the May 26 meeting that will allow restaurants to develop temporary patios or other outdoor dining arrangements to comply with the state provision that began June 1, which allows patio or outside seating only at Minnesota restaurants.

The state provision is intended to increase business volume for restaurants that have been closed or limited to take-out service since the coronavirus pandemic forced a statewide shutdown of many businesses in March.

“Anything we can do to help them this year and provide some certainty that they could continue to have outdoor service if it makes sense for their business model, in my mind, makes sense,” Councilmember Shawn Nelson said.

The council’s only debate on the matter regarded the timetable that the city would allow the temporary provision.

The ordinance is intended to provide a user-friendly option for restaurants to create outside dining space, so long as the space doesn’t impact parking availability or impact public safety. A checklist of requirements is available to restaurants looking to create outdoor dining space, and the city will review site plans without assessing a fee, according to City Manager Jamie Verbrugge.

The process isn’t intended to be burdensome on restaurants, and the city expects restaurants will follow the requirements as outlined. “There is a presumption of approval,” Verbrugge said.

The city will not charge a fee for approving outdoor seating areas, but the city has no control over any fees that state agencies may collect from city restaurants, City Attorney Melissa Manderschied said.

Restroom facilities inside restaurants would be available for patron use, but indoor seating continues to be prohibited. Buffet style food service is also prohibited, and noise generated by outdoor dining areas must end by 10 p.m., Verbrugge noted.

Outdoor seating plans would be approved on the honor system, but the city needs to have plans from restaurants for public safety purposes, Manderschied said.

The ordinance recommendation was for the outdoor dining provision to co-exist with the city’s emergency declaration, but Nelson was concerned about tying the two together and wanted to ensure that the provision would be available for an extended period of time before restaurants made investments into creating outdoor space. He surmised that it would be beneficial for restaurants to continue the outdoor seating even if limited indoor dining is permitted later this summer, and suggested allowing the outdoor provision to continue through the end of the year.

Verbrugge said that there is an expectation that there would be a point where both indoor and outdoor dining could take place. With expected limitations on indoor seating when it is permitted, “It makes sense to continue to allow an expansion of the commercial area,” he said.

It was unclear, however, how temporary outdoor seating will impact commercial properties, such as strip malls, if the parking demand increases when indoor seating is permitted, or other adjacent businesses see increased customer traffic, Verbrugge explained. That may present problems, but it should not be forecasted as a limitation, he noted.

Manderschied said that given the situation is fluid, the proposal was designed to be as flexible as possible, and even with a set date to allow temporary outdoor seating until the fall, the council could rescind the provision at any time.

But the council preferred setting a date and settled upon Sept. 30 as the end date for temporary seating arrangements, agreeing that the provision would be canceled if the state rescinds its emergency order.

Follow Bloomington community editor Mike Hanks on Twitter at @suncurrent and on Facebook at suncurrentcentral.

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