The City of Phoenix has launched a new policy tool designed to help restaurants struggling due to COVID-19: a program that allows restaurants to create temporary outdoor areas for food and alcohol consumption.
“We want to keep our restaurants open and give them business during trying times,” says Debra Stark, a Phoenix City Councilmember who helped to initiate the city’s plan.
Officially, it's called the "Temporary Outdoor Dining Program — Response to COVID-19." The city approved the plan in July but is just now formally rolling it out. Under the program, restaurants located within a zoning district that permits outdoor food and alcohol consumption can expand without going through the trouble of a use-permit hearing.
Instead, they can obtain an Emergency Declaration Administrative Temporary Use Permit (ATUP). Restaurants can apply for permits online, and there’s no application fee. (All relevant info on the program can be found here.)
“We opened the permitting process about a month ago, and now we’re fine-tuning it,” says Alan Stephenson, who heads the city's planning and development department. He adds that he’s hoping to streamline everything so applications get turned around in two or three weeks.
Similar programs are in effect in New York City and other large metropolitan areas concerned about the COVID-related effects of crowded indoor dining.
The program is also open to Phoenix restaurants that don’t have existing outdoor dining spaces. As of October 14, three businesses had applied, according to a city spokesperson. They're all under review, which means none of the special permits have yet been granted.
The city looked at other plans while devising its own program, according to Stephenson, including ones in cities in New York and Florida, where COVID-19 rates have been high. Tempe, too, where the city has instituted a Temporary Expansion of Premises permit in response to COVID-19. To date, Tempe has issued seven such permits, including to businesses like Cartel Coffee, Fat Tuesday, and Illegal Pete's.
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Phoenix city staff also engaged various groups, including the Arizona Restaurant Association, Downtown Phoenix, Inc., and Valley Leadership. Local First Arizona has been encouraging its members to look at best practices in New York City and Chicago, according to executive director Thomas Barr.
“Over the last three months, the weather has been too hot to take advantage of the opportunity to extend outdoor spaces,” Barr says. “In the next few weeks, I think we’ll start to see a lot more businesses explore creative ways to do it.”
Carly Wade Logan, who co-owns Carly's Bistro in Roosevelt Row, says she's already amended an existing permit to expand her outdoor patio seating but may also apply for the temporary permit as well. But although the temporary permit is "a good option to consider," she says it's only part of the solution to helping restaurants bounce back.
"We need more capacity to survive," Wade Logan says. "Without this kind of support, it's hard to know how much longer local restaurants can last."