Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird today announced that she is taking emergency action to allow restaurants to serve more customers while still following the requirements of the COVID-19 Directed Health Measure (DHM). Through an Executive Order, the mayor is creating a Temporary Outdoor Dining Permit application and approval process to allow restaurants to expand their seating capacity into adjacent outdoor, publicly or privately-owned spaces. No fees will be charged. Under the DHM, restaurants are limited to 50-percent occupancy and must separate tables by at least six feet.
"I am grateful to the team of people here at City Hall - folks at Urban Development, Planning, Building and Safety, and the Law Departments - who have been working diligently to create these adaptations to the way we do business in order to support our community's businesses," Mayor Gaylor Baird said. She added that the city team "has worked to develop out of the box solutions that allow restaurants to achieve a greater capacity of customers without increasing the density of those customers."
An outdoor dining review team will have the authority to waive or amend code requirements relating to outdoor dining. Those include the duration of tent and special event permits; sidewalk café restrictions; parking standards; set back requirements; and restroom distance rules. The review team will review and approve permits and can revoke them if issues arise that impact the public's safety or access.
Urban Development Director Dan Marvin said some restaurants control land around their buildings and can expand outdoor dining without extending into their parking lots. Others control parking around their locations and would be able to move additional seating out into parking areas.
"Downtown, the outdoor dining review committee will work to expand the number of restaurants that can serve outside," Marvin said. "We hope that many of these new areas will remain permanent because we think it will help the downtown business both in the short- and long-term and will provide an added amenity for the downtown."
Mayor Gaylor Baird said a related effort is under way to allow alcohol to be served in the new dining spaces. A Special Designated License to sell and serve alcohol is required for these areas, and the city is working to adjust state and local requirements to speed up the approval process and to extend the length of time the licenses could be in effect.
A proposal to streamline the approval process at the local level is on the City's Council's agenda for its meeting Monday, June 1.
"We are still in discussions with the state about whether we can achieve the necessary approvals to make this happen, but we are hopeful that these adjustments will be implemented in the coming weeks to assist our local restaurants and bars," said Mayor Gaylor Baird.
The Mayor said the city is also considering the closure of some city streets in areas like the Haymarket and others with low traffic volume. The Urban Development Department will work with the Downtown Lincoln Association and the Haymarket Development Corporation to survey businesses on additional measures.
More information, including the current DHM and resources for businesses, is available at COVID19.lincoln.ne.gov.