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Kansas City, Missouri, Council Considers Letting Restaurants Turn Parking Lots Into Patios

Al Smith

The city's rules for reopening limit restaurants' indoor dining, but a proposal would allow them to create makeshift patios on sidewalks and in parking spaces.

As Kansas City lifts coronavirus restrictions on gatherings, many small bars and restaurants are still trying to figure out what being open again looks like.

Under city guidelines, restaurants and bars must space tables ten feet apart. That’s doable for larger restaurants, but it severely limits the number of guests small places can serve.

Kansas City officials are trying to give local businesses a few more options — by allowing them to set up dining areas in parking lots or on sidewalks outside their establishments.

“It’s just one thing that we’re doing to try to address the financial toll that the coronavirus is taking,” councilwoman Andrea Bough said.

Bough is backing an ordinance to allow more improvised dining spaces to better accommodate for social distancing. It was advanced by a city council committee Wednesday and set to be voted on by the full council Thursday.

Barbara Rafael took measurements at Le Fou Frog restaurant in the River Market area last week. Under the city's current rules, the tiny French bistro would be able to squeeze just six tables inside and three on its small patio.

Rafael hasn't reopened yet, but when they do, she says, they would definitely take advantage of their parking lot. Even before the council was considering an ordinance, she reached out to the health department to inquire about it.

“Where else can we put all those extra tables we can’t use?” Rafael told KCUR.

Under the suite of ordinances advanced Wednesday, restaurants and bars would be able to apply for temporary permits to operate sidewalk cafés, parklets and street cafés.

That would allow businesses to put seating in parking spaces, green spaces and sidewalks, as long as sidewalk patios leave enough room for pedestrian access. Parking requirements for restaurants would be waived.

ADA-reserved parking spaces would not be allowed to be used for seating and establishments should put up temporary barriers that clearly mark outdoor dining spaces. Just like traditional dining rooms, all temporary eating spaces would be subject to inspections by the health department.

The ordinance also calls for these permits to be expedited and to expire December 31, 2020.

Zaid Iskandrani, co-owner of Aladdin Café in the Volker neighborhood along 39th Street, said they would likely spread out into their parking lot if the city approves.

“Yeah, I think we’ll use that,” he told KCUR over the phone.

Iskandrani says he and his brother are still finalizing an opening date, but said extending patio seating into his parking lot would make it much easier to keep proper distance.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
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