The city council on Monday voted to temporarily streamline the process for restaurants and bars to request permission to add outdoor seating.
The 6-1 vote suspends rules requiring outdoor seating requests be approved by the city council and reviewed by the alcohol licensing advisory committee, when applicable. The rules are suspended through Oct. 30.
For restaurants without a liquor license, the vote suspends the typically required site plan review.
Paul Williams cast the sole opposing vote.
Under the new process, Building Director Tom Clippert will review and approve requests for outdoor seating, according to a city memo.
The idea for the temporary change came from conversations between city officials and business owners while the city crafted its coronavirus pandemic recovery plan, Economic Development Director Gale Price said.
Outdoor seating allows bars and restaurants to make up for indoor seating lost to occupancy restrictions that the county recommends, Price said.
The Rock County Public Health Department under its phased reopening plan recommends restaurants and bars be open at 50% capacity with tables spread out to maintain physical distancing.
The health department’s recommendations are not enforceable, but many area of businesses are abiding by the recommendations and other safety guidelines suggested by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Business owners requested an easier process to add outdoor seating given current challenges, Price said.
Once Clippert approves a business’s outdoor seating proposal, the business will be allowed to serve customers in the outdoor spaces until Oct. 30.
A draft of the ordinance allowed the suspension through Oct. 31, but the date was changed to Oct. 30 after council member Doug Marklein suggested it might not be prudent to allow outdoor drinking on Halloween, which falls on a Saturday.
Outdoor seating areas could extend past property lines of restaurants and bars if the abutting property owner agrees to it, Price said.
Paul Williams, the council member and alcohol licensing committee member who cast the lone opposing vote, said he was concerned about granting extension of premises on liquor licenses to areas where restaurant or bar staff could not see and monitor consumption.
Williams gave Whiskey Ranch, 24 N. Main St., as an example. Whiskey Ranch has been serving food at tables on the side of its building along Wall Street, which cannot be seen from inside the restaurant, he said.
Price said there will be surveillance if businesses have workers tending to tables regularly.
Williams was also concerned that eliminating committee and council review would mean neighboring property owners would not be notified of proposed outdoor seating as they would when a public hearing is scheduled.