City council approved an ordinance to allow restaurants to use parking meters as outdoor dining spaces.

COLUMBIA - In an unanimous decision, Columbia City Council voted in favor of expanding downtown restaurant dining to outdoor parking spaces Monday night.

The council originally proposed the “Restaurant Right of Way” ordinance at the April 5 meeting. At the April 19 meeting, the council discussed the ordinance and voted yes.

With this ordinance, downtown Columbia restaurants are able to use the parking meter spaces in front of their buildings for additional dining space. 

The chair of the Downtown Leadership Council (DLC) said his team is happy about the city's decision.

"The pandemic has had devastating effects on restaurants," Scott Wilson said. "Not just requiring social distancing, but also capacity limitations, the council was in favor of whatever help the city could give to restaurants as quickly as possible."

Wilson said this ordinance will help with expected crowds from big events, like college graduation ceremonies and the True/False Film Fest.

Management at Tellers restaurant said they don't support this ordinance and that "the parking meters should stay places for people to park and pay."

One Columbia business said it won't be taking advantage of the ordinance because they're seeing success elsewhere.

"We've seen a lot more delivery orders come through from the pandemic, so we don't think it'll really be all that useful for us," Kyle Lewis said, manager at Wingin' Out.

Local favorite Ernie's Cafe and Steakhouse is in favor of the new rules. Owner Tom Spurling says this comes at just the right time.

"We're thankful for the patio season. On the patio, we can have all of our tables spread out to be socially distanced," he said.

To use parking spots for patio seating, restaurants have to sacrifice space for possible curbside and carryout business. Spurling says the decision is easy for Ernie's Cafe.

"We do very little to-go business on the weekends because we're very busy inside. During the week, there would be enough other parking spaces to use for our to-go business," Spurling said.

He says he expects the new ordinance to help his business thrive.

"We're talking about 30% more seating on the outside, just in our case, still allowing for social distancing at that number."

To use these spaces, restaurant owners will need to apply for a temporary, 90-day operating permit and pay $10 special meter hood fees. The application will need to be submitted 21 days prior to parking space use to the city's Public Works Director.

Originally, the permit only extended 20 days, but after council consideration, leaders motioned to extended the permit window to allow businesses more time to set up dining in the parking spaces.

The ordinance calls for additional outdoor seating to be no larger than fourteen 14 feet from the face of the curb for angled parking spaces. Parking spaces that are parallel to the curb shall be no longer than 6 feet from the face of the curb.

The ordinance will be in effect through the end of the calendar year.

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