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City Council approves changing code for more streamlined process to aid in outdoor seating at restaurants.

PMG FILE PHOTO - The city is working to make it easier for business owners to adjust for the winter amid the pandemic, but some establishments face limited options. Lake Oswego businesses may not have as bleak of a winter as they first thought.

The Lake Oswego City Council unanimously voted at its Oct. 20 meeting to direct staff to prepare an ordinance to make it easier for businesses to have permanent improvements like awnings and canopies over outdoor dining areas.

It also replaces the 14-day restriction on temporary shelters, like the use of tents, to allow a longer timeframe for certain commercial uses during the COVID-19 pandemic, effective immediately.

Once it has been drafted, the ordinance will be reviewed by the Lake Oswego Planning Commission.

"Heading into the fall and the winter it's particularly important that we provide support in any way we can, particularly for restaurants and other businesses that have been able to use outdoor space through the summer due to physical distancing requirements and public health and safety," said Planning and Building Services Director Scot Siegel during the meeting. "Now having to move back indoors, we are hearing from local businesses they are wanting to have more space covered."

The code changes would help streamline the process for businesses to receive approval for covers over outdoor dining areas and extend the time limit for temporary shelters through the end of May 2021.

"We hope this doesn't continue beyond that," Siegel said.

City staff will now work to initiate code changes. Working with the Planning Commission allows the building department to issue permits for structures like awnings while the code amendments are in process.

Siegel said businesses will still need to acquire a building permit for permanent improvements, but canopies and awnings would be exempt from design review with the code changes.

"You save like three months off the process," Siegel said.

The City Council recently adopted an ordinance that allowed seasonal outdoor dining enclosures from October through April every year, though Siegel said many businesses will benefit by the extension of that timeline.

"We are hearing that it's a matter of survival for these businesses," Siegel said. "People need to have additional space."

"The City has also added 15-minute on-street parking next to some First Street restaurants to help facilitate customers arriving for 'pickup' orders," a staff report read. "Additionally, the City's Economic Rapid Response team in partnership with the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce has conducted outreach to local restaurant owners to identify barriers to business survival during the pandemic, and potential solutions."

Awnings or canopies would be considered permanent additions to buildings.

"Three local restaurant owners have approached the City to date asking for a more expeditious permitting process for installing awnings over their outdoor seating areas," the staff report read. "According to these businesses, awnings are a more economical way to provide shelter than seasonal dining enclosures, which are a type of prefabricated, removable building addition that the City recently authorized with Ordinance 2851. Assuming that awning-covered seating areas can be outfitted with code-compliant sources of heating and windscreens, they could provide critical seating capacity this fall and winter for local restaurants if exempted from the City's design review process."

But a common issue with some restaurant owners is that space, configuration and cost present challenges when thinking about these changes to outdoor seating.

Five Spice and Pizzaria Sul Lago General Manager Jayne Jablonski said Five Spice is a second floor restaurant, so there's not much they can do with additional outdoor seating aside from the patio they already have. For winter, the business plans to reduce the five-table outdoor seating area to four and erect canvas, tent-like walls around the area for protection from winter weather. The patio already has a cover and heat, so to allow for airflow the additional walls will not reach to the top.

While Sul Lago has a large patio area, Jablonski said they don't plan on purchasing tents or temporary shelter for the outdoor seating because of the expense.

She said during Gov. Kate Brown's stay-at-home orders, takeout at the pizza joint was robust.

"We're hoping that will continue and we'll be able to survive on that," said Jablonski, adding that it's important to instill a sense of safety and confidence in customers so they will want to dine inside at Five Spice. "If people aren't going to dine inside, it's not going to work."

Five Spice is in the process of installing UV lights in the air ducts to help kill viruses and bacteria.

"In the summer it's all intake air, fresh air, but in the winter because it's heat, it's more recycled air," Jablonski said. Five Spice also has someone who fogs the place, spraying a type of sanitizing solution over surfaces including bathrooms, the elevator, tables, chairs and railings.

Whether businesses opt for temporary shelters for outdoor seating or not, they have to meet building, fire and safety code requirements.

Gregg Matteucci, owner of Tucci's, is in a similar position where the location of the restaurant doesn't allow for much additional outdoor seating.

However, there is a side patio that Matteucci said he's gone back and forth on when it comes to erecting a tent over the outdoor area. He said because the space has permanent awnings already, there would need to be an extensive tenting system to make it work with the side door, which would be a challenge.

"I'm just not so sure that it would work for us," Matteucci said. "I wish I knew my plans for winter."

Some outdoor tables do have heaters but when it rains, there's not a lot Matteucci said they could do.

"We're just hunkering down, starting to move inside with our 50% capacity and we're praying the governor will let us go into Phase 2," he added.

Lisa Shaw-Ryan, owner of Chuckie Pies and Casa Pequena Taqueria, said she has been working for the last year and a half to amend the code to allow for seasonal restaurant dining enclosures. And while she's appreciative that the City Council took action with that, the cost associated with these enclosures is a challenge during the pandemic.

She said some businesses may benefit from this, but for her businesses, it doesn't make sense to add a temporary structure. She said there are multiple factors to determine if these temporary shelters like tents would be successful in a location.

For example, due to the location of Chuckie Pies at The Windward, the decision is also driven by her landlord and the condo association, not just the city.

"With this length of the pandemic, the resources that I have are meager. Now they're so limited I can't risk renting a tent or doing something in the hopes that the business is there. I really have to compress what I'm doing and hold on," Shaw-Ryan said. "If I risk too much, I could jeopardize that employment and I don't want to do that or disrupt that any more than it has been."

Right now both of Shaw-Ryan's restaurants have limited outdoor seating under a covered area. And while there are heaters available, it won't protect people during wet months.

For now, she said it's important the community continues to support its local businesses "because that's really the only way that we will be here," she added.

City Manager Martha Bennett also reminded businesses during the meeting that the city can administratively allow table seating in the public right-of-way, whether it's on a public sidewalk or public parking strip.

"As long as we can maintain safe travel, we can do it," Bennett said during the meeting.

"Hopefully, this will be a toolbox they can use to survive," Councilor John Wendland added during the meeting.

For more information on outdoor shelter options, visit https://bit.ly/3okxf1c.


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