City of Lincoln offers accommodations for outdoor dining areas for local bars and restaurants

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[September 23, 2020]   As the state of Illinois prepares to move into phase three of economic recovery in the wake of coronavirus, Lincoln aldermen on Tuesday evening discussed at length how to assist local restaurants and bars in their reopening efforts.

According to mandates by Governor JB Pritzker, our local non-essential businesses may open. Non-essential retail businesses can have customers inside their store under strict guidelines. Customers are required to wear masks as are clerks. Social distancing must be observed, and the number of customers allowed to shop at one time should be limited.

For bars and restaurants, guests may dine outside but not inside the establishments. Even outside, they must observe social distancing with no large groups gathering together. Guests may go inside the establishments to place and pay for their orders and also to use public restrooms. They may not loiter inside the building or consume their food or drink orders inside the building.

Tuesday evening, aldermen talked about how to assist with the outdoor seating for local bars and restaurants.

The proposed “Item A - Restaurant/Bar Downtown Plan” was divided into three segments.

Plan A.) Use of street parking for outdoor use

Plan B.) Traffic flow changes for outdoor street uses for business

Plan C.) Street closures for outdoor business use.

Also on the agenda was “Item B – Approval of use of city property,” and “Item C – Approval of Liquor Commission recommendations for the outdoor seating area.”

Kevin Bateman and Tracy Welch had been asked by Mayor Seth Goodman to gather information from local eateries and bars and draft some plans for the council to review.

First up was the discussion about of plan ‘B’ traffic flow changes. Bateman provided a map of how the city could implement one way streets. The proposal included one way traffic around the Logan County Courthouse on three sides – Broadway Street, Kickapoo Street and Pulaski Street. Pulaski would also be one way one block to the west of the square from Kickapoo to Chicago Street.

Bateman said that McLean Street could not be one way because of the post office and also to help accommodate access to the courthouse.

Another suggestion was to make Sangamon Street one way to accommodate the Blue Dog Inn.

Generally speaking, aldermen were not in favor of creating one-way traffic. Many, including Welch and Bateman who drew out the option, said they felt that the implementation of one-way streets would make for greater accident risks because it would be so unfamiliar to local drivers.

Local business owner Jim Drew representing Sorrento’s Pizzeria commented via telephone. He said he would not be in favor of one way traffic. He added that he would prefer to have his patrons utilize the parking lot behind the restaurant. He also suggested that Rio Grande that is located on Kickapoo Street could use the grassy area next door to his business (the Lincoln Welcome Garden).

Jeff Hoinacki said that he felt that one way traffic would also be detrimental to the retail businesses because implementing it would make access to parking on the store front side of streets more difficult.

With the group in agreement on plan ‘B,’ aldermen went back to plan ‘A’ to discuss use of street parking for dining. In the course of the discussion, Plan A and item B – approval of use of city owned property - became intertwined.

Plan ‘A’ included allowing the use of parking spaces in front of the businesses of outdoor dining. The plan included giving each business the three marked parking spaces directly in front of their business for outdoor dining. Plan B and Plan A were actually overlapping in that the goal of one way traffic had been to create a safer environment for those utilizing parking spaces for guests.

Item B included the use owned property including Shay Parking lot for Guzzardo’s and the Pekin Street parking lot at the Lincoln Public Library for Sorrento’s, Rio Grande and possibly Flossie and Delzena’s.

Welch said the grassy area, or Welcome garden had also been suggested by Lance Rainforth of Abe’s. Welch said that property was under lease to the Logan County Tourism Bureau. He didn’t believe there would be any objection by the bureau to lending the property to Rio Grande, but as a board member of the bureau along with Steve Parrot, they could pole the full board if needed.

Bateman said he would prefer not to allow use of grassy areas because regular chairs might sink into the soil and create safety hazards when the weather was wet. In addition, he said there would be issues with keeping the areas mowed. He said that Rio Grande could also utilize the Pekin Street Parking lot.

The designation of parking spaces in front of the businesses was favored by the aldermen. There were concerns about making sure that the city did all that it could to remind drivers that there were people dining in the streets, and assuring to the best of their ability that all would be safe.

Discussions about signage warning drivers of the outdoor dining areas ahead, large metal barricades and portable concrete abutments were a big part of the debate throughout the evening. All agreed that the city had to do as much as it could to protect citizens.

Bateman said that part of the parking area plan would include the bright orange snow fencing and that the city would provide a set amount of that fencing to each restaurant. The discussion began with providing a minimum of 100 feet of the fencing. During the evening the discussion moved to what would be the maximum if 100 feet were a minimum. Bateman suggested 400 feet, but others thought that was too much.

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According to city street superintendent Walt Landers, 100 feet rolls of the fencing would cost $24. Landers said that rolls could be ordered on Wednesday for next day delivery. Paying for the rolls would come from the Third Friday’s Downtown budget because there will be no third Friday event in June.

Aldermen settled on providing no more than 200 feet of fencing and authorized Landers to order up to 40 rolls for next day delivery. Landers had said he could get 20, but would have to see if he could get 40.

In addition to the three spaces, aldermen also discussed allowing for more than three spaces upon request from a specific business. They agreed that allowing additional spaces would be acceptable providing that neighboring businesses were okay with it too.

The city will also provide picnic tables to the businesses as needed. The first suggestion was to permit each business to have four tables on a first come first served basis. However, some thought that would not be fair to everyone, because the city has less than 30 tables. Aldermen settled on offering two tables to business for Friday. Then the first of the week, if tables are still available they will be offered to businesses on a first come first served basis. Mayor Seth Goodman said he wasn’t sure how many people would want the picnic tables because their size would take up the square footage of their dining area more quickly than smaller tables and chairs.

Another option for businesses is that they will be permitted to put up tents over their dining area. Landers said that tents could be secured to the road with one-quarter-inch taps, but should still be lowered at the close of business each day to prevent the tents from becoming airborne in a storm.

Businesses will be permitted to run electricity to their dining areas for lighting or whatever else they might need. The cords must run from their own business to the dining area and must be secured and covered to prevent trip hazards.

Eateries that serve liquor will be permitted to serve single serving drinks outside. They must have alcohol service within a fenced in area, and guests will not be permitted to leave the area with drinks in hand.

Video gambling will still not be allowed according to state mandates.

There will be no open fire pits allowed but propane heaters with no open flames will be allowed for cool evenings.

A third part of the overall plan was plan ‘C’ which included street closures to accommodate outdoor dining. The council vetoed that plan.

In the end the group voted on plan A and B combined with a motion that included not offering one way streets and offering parking spaces and space in city owned parking lots for outdoor dining.

With most of the rules hashed out, the aldermen asked that city attorney John Hoblit draft a letter that would be delivered to all restaurant and bar owners in the city, not just downtown.

Other considerations included in the letter will be requests for proof of insurance from the property owners. Safety inspections of the dining areas by the city fire department and the city code officer will also be required. Letters of understanding will be signed transferring all liability to the business owners. Those letters may be signed only by the owners of the business before a Notary Public. There are three Notaries in the city clerk’s office. City Clerk Peggy Bateman said if necessary, she or someone from her office would go to the owner to witness the signature and warned that no one may bring in a signed document to be notarized, the notary must witness the signature.

There must also be a signed consent from neighboring businesses if a restaurant or bar wishes to utilize more than three parking spaces. Businesses that already have outdoor serving areas such as beer gardens on their own property will adhere to their own rules as they have always and in compliance with state guidelines.

Businesses that wish to establish outdoor dining on privately owned property should still contact the city and may be required to utilize the safety fencing.

The council also approved authorizing Goodman and two aldermen of his choice to oversee the assignment of parking spaces and to hear requests for additional spaces or tables. Goodman expressed that this was going to be a very quick operation to help get the eateries up and running by this Friday, so council approval of every detail was not feasible. Welch stressed that the mayor and two aldermen appointed would not be making any decisions independent of the guidelines that the city has approved. This came after a telephone call from Wanda Lee Rohlfs. She expressed concern that the aldermen should grant decision making authority to a committee and said it was a practice the city should not get into. She was assured that there was not going to be an actual committee, and that these were also exceptional circumstances.

Goodman also said that he had heard complaints that the city is not utilizing a local news source as it should be. He said that he wanted copies of the documents that Hoblit would draft sent to all local news sources and published to the city’s website and facebook page.

Hoblit said he could have the letters written and ready for distribution by noon on Wednesday. The council also talked about delivery of the documents. Bateman said he could help and others said they would as well. The current plan is to hand deliver the documents to the businesses and talk to each one about the needed accommodations as soon as possible on Wednesday and Thursday.

All local restaurants may open for outdoor dining on Friday.

[Nila Smith]

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