Admit it: Eating at a restaurant has been a little weird since phase two of the state’s economic recovery began reopening more dining rooms. Even with our masks on, it’s been tough to disguise our anxiety about sitting inside amid the coronavirus pandemic (did somebody sneeze?), and it’s been even more difficult to hide our jealousy when those precious few outdoor seats get snatched up.
But better ventilation is on the way. After weeks of calls to relax Seattle’s “streatery” restrictions, the mayor’s office announced today that the city has introduced legislation allowing small businesses to apply for free street-use permits, opening up their sidewalks or curbside parking spots to more socially distant seating and other operations. The Seattle Department of Transportation will immediately begin accepting applications for these licenses, which are temporary, but not that temporary. They’re good for as long as six months, a much-needed runway to recovery for businesses that have suffered significant losses since the coronavirus pandemic began.
The city promises a speedier-than-normal application review process (no two-week public comment) for sidewalk and parking space seating, but restaurants will still need to apply to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board to serve alcohol in these areas.
Other types of businesses can also take advantage of temporary licenses. Retailers can offer up their goods in the sidewalks and parking spots with merchandise display permits, and vendors (aka food trucks, carts) can add more flexibility to their locations and schedules with a similar license.
City council members Dan Strauss and Alex Pedersen will sponsor the legislation. Strauss has worked with community advocates to consider street dining options in Ballard, including making Ballard Avenue one of the oft-dreamed about cafe streets. That level of outdoor expansion is still in the works, per Kelsey Nyland, a spokesperson in the mayor's office. The city could pilot some of these street closures in July; like Stay Healthy Streets, the program wouldn't have to go before the city council to be enacted.
Until then, we’ll take all the fresh air we can get.