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City has a street, tent, and heater permit plan that could help your favorite Capitol Hill restaurants and bars survive rain season in Seattle

The Unicorn’s street setup (Image: The Unicorn)

Mayor Jenny Durkan and the City of Seattle are rolling out changes that might be the biggest boost struggling Capitol Hill food and drink venues can get as we head into the wet and cold Seattle winter and what seems likely to be many more months of COVID-19 restrictions.

The mayor announced Wednesday afternoon that the city will extend temporary street permits that allow outdoor seating though Halloween of 2021 and that the Seattle Fire Department is stepping up its process to allow free tent and heating permits to venues that comply with fire codes and strict inspection requirements.


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The changes will also allow businesses to make a more long-lasting investment in their street spaces as the city will now allow “outdoor dining equipment” to remain in place every day and around the clock meaning venues can put more permanent structures in place and cut down on time consuming setup and breakdown. “It’s like setting up the Block Party every single night,” Linda Morton of Capitol Hill’s Terra Plata tells CHS.

“As a representative for Seattle Restaurant Alliance, it’s been interesting to see what will help,” Morton said. “This is probably the biggest help that gives these places an opportunity to add capacity if they can get seats outside.”

(Image: Rione XIII)

The city announced that the Seattle Fire Department will immediately begin issuing the free, 90-day tent permits “to help small businesses continue their operations outdoors during the COVID -19 pandemic”.

All free tent permits must align with SFD regulations, including complying with the fire code. All business owners who paid for a tent permit since July 1, 2020 will be refunded. The permits are limited to 90-days due to the need for frequent inspection to maintain compliance with building and fire codes. In addition, SFD will also issue free heating permits to businesses operating outdoors due to COVID-19, effective immediately and continuing through October 31, 2021. Permittees who already paid for a heating permit since July 1, 2020 will be refunded.

In Wednesday’s announcement, Durkan also said the city will continue to issue free sidewalk café and curb space permits to allow restaurants, retail stores, vending trucks and carts “to operate in the sidewalk or curb space while the free street closure permits allow businesses to operate in one or more blocks in front of their business.”

The city has issued 151 free street use permits so far, including 11 blocks opened for business use including Capitol Hill’s Optimism Brewing which can spill its beer garden out onto Broadway Court.

The new effort comes as Seattle and King County are beginning to move past the phase process used to provide a framework of restrictions during the summer to help slow the spread of COVID-19 to a more surgical approach to reopenings that has made monitoring current infection and positivity rate metrics tantamount to checking weather reports and advisories. In recent reports, King County has been recording around 92 new cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks — well above the threshold officials say we should be shooting for.

(Image: Mamnoon)

While the changes will help venues like Terra Plata and neighbor Mamnoon thanks to their location on streets friendly to the needs of setting up outdoor seating areas, some Capitol Hill restaurants and bars will continue to struggle due to a lack of space or resources to add the new tent and heater setups. Elsewhere, the new permanence could mean issues for setups that block sidewalks or make it difficult for differently abled people to access.

Bars that have been especially hard hit might find some relief in the changes. Venues like Canon that have dabbled in retail to try to cover expenses may finally be able to justify more fully reopening with more capacity under the ongoing, more-restrictive COVID-19 limitations on drinking establishments.

Morton said Wednesday that the new effort around permits, tents, and heaters is hoped to allow many owners to invest more deeply in longer-lasting solutions and could help justify reopening for some venues where the more temporary setups just didn’t pencil out. For Terra Plata, the change will probably mean an end to leasing some of the equipment they need for street seating and purchasing their own gear. The changes might also mean a new run on equipment after a series of shortages and demand spikes in recent months for everything from face masks to plexiglass. Heaters might be “the new plexiglass,” Morton quipped.

The city says that more changes are coming to try to help Seattle’s small businesses and the restaurant and bar scene with “creative new policies to help small business owners operate outside in a way that’s comfortable, safe, and healthy for their customers.” More information on the “new initiatives” will be released in coming weeks, the city said.


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ISeeWhatYouDidThere
ISeeWhatYouDidThere
1 month ago

Wait, we need a permit for tents on public property now?

notveryclever
notveryclever
1 month ago

Don’t be a dick

I see it
I see it
1 month ago
Reply to  notveryclever

Don’t be an apologist for dysfunction. The city looks like crap. Own it.

Fairly Obvious
Fairly Obvious
1 month ago
Reply to  notveryclever

The city looks like crap. Own it.

The City has a homeless problem, nobody disputes that, but it definitely doesn’t look like crap.

Anyone that claims such has (1) never been to Seattle and/or (2) never seen another large city.

Deal with it.

Jerry Schwinger
Jerry Schwinger
1 month ago

LOL… you’re not wrong

James
James
1 month ago

Unfunny redditor style humor leaking onto neighborhood blogs now.

Targret
Targret
1 month ago

Point.

Denny Park currently looks like a KOA Campground.

RWK
RWK
28 days ago
Reply to  Targret

Yes, and many other locations too….Cal Anderson, Miller Park, 15th & John, etc etc. In some areas, Seattle is being inundated by tents and the inevitable trash, and the City seems helpless to do anything about it. It’s sad, and infuriating at the same time.

RWK
RWK
1 month ago

I don’t think this is going to work, because not many people are going to want to sit “outside” during the cold, wet winter months…me included. And if you’re huddled together in a tent, how is that different than “inside” dining?….seems to me the risk of covid is the same. Will the tents only be allowed at 50% capacity, just like inside?

Nick
Nick
1 month ago
Reply to  RWK

A tent with open sides and heaters (that still allows airflow) is much better than indoor dining with no air movement.

A tent with almost entirely closed sides as some places seem to be doing makes 0 sense.

I think you are right though that indoor dining is going to slowly be normalized again for some people who were avoiding it. One part the weather itself, one part restaurants deciding it isn’t worth it and making it hard on responsible patrons.

Gordon
Gordon
1 month ago
Reply to  RWK

There is a good chance it will work. It works in European cities that have similar climates. For instance: “Nearly three-quarters of cafes and restaurants in Paris, for example, have some sort of heated terrace.”
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2020-10-20/what-outdoor-dining-may-look-like-in-winter

Nick
Nick
1 month ago

This is pretty much the bare minimum the city should be doing. I thought they were going to give out free heaters or something, not just free permits.

Was the only one sitting outside at a place yesterday. At 48 degrees people were acting and looking at me like it was crazy to sit outside. Imagine when it hits the 30s.

I see a feedback loop in the future where some people that were sitting outdoors finally give in to indoor dining, restaurants decide outdoor dining isn’t worth the hassle because not enough people want to, it becomes harder to find places with outdoor seating, and repeat.

Glenn
Glenn
1 month ago
Reply to  Nick

I have an 8:30pm reservation for dinner tonight on an outdoor patio at Surrel on Madison (just voted one of the best new restaurants in Seattle). I had lunch under a tent earlier this week at Carello on Broadway, and dined at Cactus in West Seattle on their outside patio this weekend. I expect these and other outdoor options to continue through the winter, and I will definitely continue to enjoy the great outdoors while dining in our city. Wear a heavy sweater, don your boots, order hearty foods, and grab a stiff drink. Make an adventure out of it all. These are the times we live in.

Nick
Nick
1 month ago
Reply to  Glenn

Yup, I’m with you 100%. I just expect that some/many of the places currently doing outdoor dining will stop as it gets cold and they decide paying for heaters isn’t worth it, but I hope you’re right and many great places remain.

Cappy
Cappy
1 month ago

The heated outdoor tents with closed sides will provide restaurants with more square footage to allow appropriate social distance between more patrons…also, I am prepared to continue sitting outside uncovered in the cold and damp in order to support small businesses and restaurants, They are really struggling and I am sure that every little bit helps…oh, and be super generous when tipping your servers!

James
James
1 month ago

Eat at home. Close businesses until pandemic is over. Learn to cook.

Nostalgia for basic capitalism is going to kill us. Just get over these things and accept reality.

Ella Jurado
Ella Jurado
1 month ago

I’m curious how long this will stick. I work out daily outside and have through the entire pandemic. I was a gym go’er 100% pre covid. I noticed Monday when it was pouring rain only myself and a handful of others were at the Howe Street Stairs. I said to my friend Covid isn’t going anywhere! I’m not sure if people are going back to the gym or what but a little rain sure scared them off.