SLC releases design guide for restaurants and bars to expand outdoors – whether they can afford to is another question

The Downtown Alliance hosted a webinar panel on outdoor dining during COVID this week, and Salt Lake City presented its first design guidelines for businesses expanding their premises into the public right of way due to the pandemic.

Urban designers in the Planning Division released the document Tuesday, and it couldn’t come any sooner for a suffering food and beverage industry.

Internal discussions at city hall have been conducted among multiple departments for months on the issue.

Representatives from the state DABC, County Health Department, and the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association (SLARA) also contributed to the discussion, introduced by the Downtown Alliance’s Dee Brewer.

City guidelines for the public right-of-way

Urban designer Laura Bandara and real property agent Olga Crump presented the city’s guidelines for a Temporary Outdoor Business Permit in the public right-of-way.

As the images below show, this could be in the parking strip or in parking spaces in front of a restaurant.

Design guidelines for park strip dining. Image courtesy SLC Planning Division.

When asked by Building Salt Lake whether restaurants would need to erect barriers to keep pedestrians 6 ft away from diners, Bandara replied that the city will only require painter’s tape or chalk on the sidewalk to delineate that distance.

Will that 6 ft be a no-go zone for pedestrians? Bandara deferred to the County Health Department, but thinks that will be an area only off-limits to people waiting to be served.

Images courtesy SLC Planning.

Salt Lake County Health Department did not immediately respond to our queries.

The city requires barriers only if the restaurant is serving alcohol, or if it builds a parklet in the street in place of parking stalls. City guidelines point to Jersey City’s guide for parklets, which offers guidance on construction technique, materials, and costs.

Crump in the city’s real estate office said site plans could be hand-drawn, and that applicants should expect a streamlined process taking about a week. No approval from the city’s Design Review Team is necessary.

Furniture can be lower grade than what is usually required for patio dining, but it must be removed from the public ROW at the end of business hours. 

Permit applications for the parking strip will be processed by the city’s Real Estate Division, while businesses looking to transform parking spots will need an additional approval – from the Engineering and Transportation Division.

A more detailed site plan, including the location of any manholes and fire hydrants, is needed by Transportation. And a hefty fee.

City fees seem prohibitive for many businesses

Fees are quite different for the two permits. A temporary permit for the park strip that is good until October 31 will cost businesses only $150, while the cost to bag a parking meter – to rent a parking space – is $28 a day. 

Parklet. Photo by Flickr user Cidades para Pessoas.

During the panel, at least 4 people tuning in asked questions about the city’s fees to the panel’s moderator, Michele Corigliano of SLARA. Would the city accept the lower payment for ROW expansion in lieu of their normal, higher rental fees for sidewalk dining?

That question was parried by real estate’s Crump to city attorneys.

It would take another emergency proclamation from the Mayor or an act of the City Council to change a fee in city ordinance.

Del Vance, co-founder of Uinta Brewing, the Bayou, and current of owner of Beehive Pub on Main Street, told Building Salt Lake that city fees are a significant reason we don’t see more outdoor dining.

The cost of his patio at 128 S Main, which can only sit 12 people (pre-COVID), costs him $800 a year. To add awnings or signs that encroach on the airspace of city ROW, the rent, he says, is prohibitively high.

DABC guidelines

The DABC representatives pointed interested businesses toward the latest updates on the homepage of their website, under Temporary Outdoor Patio Requirements

The temporary regulations (until Oct 31) apply only to alcohol patio permit holders. The temporary regulations don’t affect the number of permits available.

No bars will be allowed to have patios that are not contiguous with their property. In other words, restaurants can have patios where servers cross sidewalks or curb strips – but bars can’t.

Parklet in San Francisco. Photo by Flickr user Sergio Ruiz.

Restaurants must, however, submit proof of consent from their city to cross or use public property for alcohol service and consumption. There are no state fees if a current permit holder is simply expanding their premises.

The issue of allowing alcohol-to-go or delivery requires action by the governor or the legislature, and hasn’t been discussed by the DABC, their representatives said. 

Is there enough space on the sidewalk?

Whether restaurants will take advantage of the liberalized rules is yet to be determined. Several issues remain to be resolved. 

First, are curb strips wide enough to provide sufficient space for patio dining and 6 ft clearance from pedestrians on the sidewalk? 

The Mayor’s Emergency Declaration No. 11 requires that business activity outside must maintain 6 ft for pedestrian use on sidewalks. The 4 ft in the Planning Division’s drawing is the minimum required for passage for ADA compliance. If that’s the only area pedestrians can be 6 ft from diners – does it satisfy the Mayor’s 6 ft declaration or a minimal acceptable width for a city sidewalk?

Can dining in the park strip – often narrow in commercial areas – actually achieve a 6 ft distancing requirement? Parklets may be the only feasible possibility given the need for sufficient spacing on sidewalks and between diners and pedestrians.

Yet city fees may make that option irrelevant.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated and corrected. It incorrectly cited city fees for renting a parking space. That fee is $28 a day, not $125.

Posted by Luke Garrott

Luke Garrott, PhD, has published in The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, and written features for the Salt Lake City Weekly City Guide and The West View. A former two-term councilman in Salt Lake City's District 4, he lives in Downtown Salt Lake City and grew up in the Chicago area.