Chandler easing outdoor dining rules The Chandler Arizonan

Chandler easing outdoor dining rules

October 22nd, 2020 Chandler Arizona Staff
Chandler easing outdoor dining rules
City News

By Kevin Reagan
Arizonan Staff Writer

The City of Chandler has proposed easing regulations on restaurants in help them serve more customers during the pandemic.

As some restrictions on inside dining remain in effect across Arizona, Chandler restaurateurs want to create additional dining spaces that extend beyond their rooftops and into adjacent parking lots or patios. 

After Gov. Doug Ducey signed earlier this year reduced the eateries’ dining capacity by 50 percent, city officials began examining options that would allow businesses to expand their premises without jeopardizing the public’s health.

The city had discovered some restaurants still weren’t earning enough revenue with smaller indoor dining areas.

“In many cases, limited dine-in service has been more financially challenging than when dining rooms were closed as staff costs can outweigh the additional revenue created by dine-in service,” a city memo stated.

The city has proposed streamlining the application process restaurants must complete if they wish to serve alcohol outside.

These types of requests are typically reviewed and voted on by City Council before they’re passed along to the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses.

In order to speed up the review process, Chandler may temporarily allow City Manager Marsha Reed and her staff to authorize applications.

The proposed changes would also waive a 48-day time limit on these extension permits as well as waive the $100 application fee.

The city will also waive a $25 fee that restaurants ordinarily pay for each day covered by the temporary extension permit.

The city has recommended letting them remain in effect until May 31, 2021. 

“This program has been designed to satisfy regulatory constraints while also creating as little burden as possible for the businesses,” city documents state.

Ginger Monkey, a bar and restaurant located near Ocotillo Road and Arizona Avenue, has already asked for the city’s permission to serve alcohol in an outside dining area and Council reviewed their application earlier this month.

Kim Moyers, the city’s cultural development director, said her department is working to ensure the proposed changes will still comply with health guidelines.

Every applicant wishing to expand their premises will have to sign an agreement acknowledging their understanding of the health guidelines and follow them, Moyers added.

The regulation changes were driven in part by the Downtown Chandler Community Partnership, a nonprofit that advocates for downtown businesses and events.

The partnership approached the city about devising some sort of “street dining” program.

Mary Murphy-Bessler, the partnership’s executive director, said she’s visited other cities that have employed strategies to help restaurants expand their dining capacity and thinks the same can be done in Chandler.

The city has the chance to implement a cheap, easy solution that could have a major impact on small businesses hurt by COVID-19, she added. 

“This is an opportunity for communities to add their own character to outdoor dining experience for their community,” Murphy-Bessler wrote the city.

Chandler would not be the first municipality in Arizona to introduce regulatory changes designed to encourage more outdoor dining.

Earlier this year, Prescott began allowing restaurants to use public parking spaces as temporary dining areas.

Prescott officials recently announced that they are looking for an end date to the dining program.   

City leaders in Chandler have already expressed support for easing regulatory hurdles that may be harming the restaurant industry and opening up the permitting process to more potential applicants. 

“This is an incredible way to provide more opportunity and liberty for our businesses that have been really hamstrung by this COVID crisis,” said Councilman Mark Stewart.

Councilman Matt Orlando thinks the regulatory changes are sensible during a time of uncertainty and allow for greater flexibility among applicants.

“It makes a lot more sense than a piecemeal approach,” Orlando said. “We want to make sure everything’s equitable and everyone has an opportunity to do this.”

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