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Good news for eaters: Kansas City officials want to make outdoor dining options permanent

Outdoor seating is available at most Brookside restaurants.
Carlos Moreno
Outdoor seating is available at most Brookside restaurants. Kansas City officials are looking to make permanent a pandemic-era program that loosened some restrictions around outdoor dining spaces.

Kansas City eased restrictions on outdoor dining to help keep restaurants open during the pandemic. A proposed ordinance would establish fees for street and parking lot cafés, as well as limit the number sidewalk cafes to avoid overcrowding.

When Kansas City first implemented COVID-19 restrictions that shuttered dining rooms across the region, many restaurants took advantage of a pandemic policy loosening some regulations around outdoor cafes. They built sidewalk cafes and outdoor dining areas from scratch, extending the reach of their business, giving patrons an opportunity to dine safely outdoors and saving businesses from having to shutter their doors completely.

Nearly two years later, city officials are preparing to make permanent changes to its sidewalk and street café and parklet policies.

“In the spring of 2020, with the outbreak of the pandemic, the fees were waived,” Waldron told city council during its business session. “(It) allowed for alcohol service in those areas.”

Next week, the public works department — which has been overseeing the sidewalk café program — will present an ordinance to city council that makes some of the temporary changes permanent, including amending the permit costs.

Jason Waldron of the Public Works Department said 81 sidewalk and parking lot café permits have been issued since May 2020, when the temporary program was first announced.

In a presentation on Thursday during the council’s business session, Waldron said the department is considering between two different kinds of fee structures. One would set different costs for a sidewalk café, street café or parklet, based on size. Another would establish a fixed $600 fee for a parking lot café, parklet and sidewalk café, along with a $250 annual renewal fee. Waldron said that would cover the costs of inspection and maintenance.

“The flat fee would be an approach where we pretty much just recover the costs of managing and inspecting the program, while the original recommendation incorporated trying to evaluate and value our asset, what its potential could be,” Waldron said.

Fourth District Councilman Eric Bunch said having a lower fee, and thus a lower point of entry, is a good approach. He suggested the city could also tack on an additional fee if the outdoor café would take up metered parking spaces that would otherwise generate revenue.

The measure would also establish outreach requirements for businesses to spread the word about the program.

Under the proposed ordinance, businesses applying for an outdoor dining permit will have to notify the tenants and businesses located on that street and provide a 30-day feedback period.

The city would still require outdoor dining spaces to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Bunch added there should be better guidelines around approving sidewalk cafes so they do not block too much of the sidewalk.

“I think we need something that's a little bit more enforceable in terms of telling folks where they can put street furniture, sidewalk furniture, so that our sidewalks remain clear and unencumbered,” Bunch said. “And you don't feel like you're slaloming down the sidewalk to get from point A to point B.”

Green also said the ordinance would set a maximum of two sidewalk or street cafes on one block.

“We don't necessarily want a whole string of sidewalk cafes on a particular block,” she said.

If the ordinance passes, the policies would go into effect on May 1. The 81 businesses that already have approved outdoor dining spaces would be able to keep their spaces and would have to comply with the new renewal fees.

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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