Outdoor cafe

Outdoor seating at the Osprey Cafe.

Could Seaside jump-start businesses sidelined by coronavirus regulations?

At last Monday’s City Council meeting, Seaside Chamber of Commerce CEO Brian Owen proposed a conversation about opportunities for businesses to expand onto the street.

“Looking at a very shortened season for our business, any kind of margin we can create for them is going to be vital,” Owen said. “I think it’s pertinent for us all.”

Owen discounted street closures, but said plans could include an outdoor building structure, additional seating or the use of parking lots.

“I would like to bring people together to see what could work and couldn’t,” Owen said.

The conversation comes as communities grapple with ways to keep restaurants alive in a time of social distancing.

In Astoria, the City Council, acknowledging the struggle of restaurateurs, passed a temporary ordinance allowing sidewalk seating without a permit, provided businesses maintain a 5-foot-wide path for passersby. The decision followed the Oregon Liquor Control Commission easing requirements for bars and restaurants to expand outdoor alcohol service to sidewalks, streets and other common areas.

“Staff has actually been talking about this issue far before COVID-19 came about,” City Manager Brett Estes said at a recent City Council meeting before the adoption of the ordinance. “And so this is an opportunity for us to look and see how this all works. And after restaurants are able to move back to full seating within their establishments, we may look at bringing some code amendments to the City Council for consideration based upon this.”

Portland, Bend and Ashland are among communities mulling new rules. Cannon Beach City Council held a May work session to consider plans to close down Hemlock Street to traffic to promote local businesses. While Cannon Beach Mayor Sam Steidel and others said the the proposal was “worth pursuing,” public safety officials said they were “absolutely against it,” warning of problems for emergency vehicles and firefighters.

Ultimately, City Manager Bruce St. Denis advised the council to hold off because of potential flaws and a lack of public support.

In Seaside, city councilors and staff showed concern for liability issues, a lack of space on narrow sidewalks and a question of overall consumer demand.

New state guidance for counties in phase two reopening limits maximum occupancy to maintain physical distancing requirements and limit number of customers on premises. Restaurants must ensure tables are spaced at least 6 feet apart. If a business is unable to maintain that distance it may operate only as pickup or to-go service. This applies to both indoor and outdoor seating.

Planning director Kevin Cupples said the state has allowed modifications for outdoor seating.

“I’ve told business owners who have asked to present a site plan, to provide an equal seating plan inside. I’ve said I would look at a reduced requirement in conjunction with that.”

So far, businesses in Seaside are mixed on the idea, Owen said.

“I would like to bring people together to see what could work and couldn’t,” he said. “Maybe this year it is something look at and if it does work, make it into a seasonal approach. But for right now let’s look at how we can help our businesses for the next three or four months.”

A council workshop on outdoor seating is scheduled for June 29 at 6 p.m.

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