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Seattle’s street dining is here to stay — at least for a while

An outdoor dining set-up at a restaurant in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood. (MyNorthwest photo)

Seattle City Councilmember Dan Strauss introduced legislation on May 10 to extend the city’s café streets pilot program for another year.

The legislation was heard on May 12 in the Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee, which passed an extension of the program for another year. It went to full council for a final vote on May 17. The Seattle City Council voted to extend the free street permits for restaurants and businesses until May 2022.

The program has allowed Seattle restaurants and other retail storefronts to use the streets in front of their businesses for outdoor dining and displays, which has helped many of them be able to continue operating safely during the COVID-19 pandemic and allow for social distancing.

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Strauss is chair of the city’s Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee. He previously sponsored a bill to help make home businesses legal, including Yonder Bar in Greenwood, by changing a few land use codes for one year.

“It provides flexibility with the land use code so that entrepreneurs can use their garage to turn their dreams into businesses that succeed,” Strauss said about his Bringing Business Home bill. “So that as we emerge out of this pandemic, we’re able to fill those vacant storefronts with businesses that are home grown.”

Strauss’ new legislation was co-sponsored by Council President Lorena Gonzalez. After hearing from many small businesses about the success of the Café Streets program, the intention was to offer a permanent program for businesses to keep using outdoor space, “creating vibrancy in neighborhoods and business districts.” Before a permanent solution is found, however, the legislation was set to extend the existing program through May 31, 2022.

“I am excited to announce my legislation creating a pathway to keeping sidewalk cafes and café streets as permanent features in our city,” Strauss said. “This bill extends the free café, display, and vending permits through May 31, 2022, and sets the steps to make this critical program permanent. Business owners have told me these permits saved their businesses by giving them the flexibility to use their entrepreneurial drive to stay open during changing public health regulations. Businesses who pivoted their model to using these permits aren’t as impacted by changing public health guidelines.”

“This pathway to permanency gives businesses the certainty they need to invest in their outdoor spaces and the agility to remain open during changing public health guidelines. I want every neighborhood to have streets like Ballard Avenue in my district – bustling with outdoor dining and retail options. Neighborhoods who don’t have a dedicated street also thrive when business owners get to use their creativity to use public space to stay open. This is how we create a more vibrant city,” Strauss said.  

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Creating a pathway to permanent rules will help local businesses who have invested in outdoor spaces, especially with the nicer weather ahead in spring and summer.

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