City to permit parklets for outdoor dining in downtown area

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[April 07, 2021] 

As soon as the application is completed, downtown eateries will be able to apply and receive permission to establish outdoor dining areas on city property in Lincoln for the summer.

Lincoln aldermen on Monday night approved by unanimous vote permitting two city parking spaces per establishment to be blocked off and used for the outdoor experience. This follows a year where that indoor dining was not permitted. In 2020 the outdoor option was given to local eateries to help them keep their doors open during the pandemic.

The outdoor option was so well received by customers, that this year, even though inside seating is allowed, local eateries are interested in offering it again.

Aldermen began discussing the request at the last committee of the whole meeting in March and continued the discussion at the April 5th voting session.

At the original discussion, the outline for the application process included an annual permit fee of $100 per parking space, with up to four spaces allowed side by side if shared by two or more businesses.

Acting Mayor Tracy Welch and Alderman Kevin Bateman said that they would be in favor of giving the businesses the spots free of charge for the next year or two to help them recover from revenues lost in 2020. At the same time, City Treasurer Chuck Conzo was hoping for more money as it is his responsibility to assist the city in generating revenue for itself after such a trying year.

At the committee of the whole meeting, aldermen settled on $100 per space annual fee.

This week, the topic of what to charge came up again and aldermen continued to advocate for a lesser fee. Bateman, Welch and others agreed that this should be a case where that the city was not in it for the money, but rather was offering local businesses a new way to generate income and at the same time add interest to the downtown area.

During the meeting, Busey Roate with Spirited Republic and Limerick Brewing on Pulaski Street addressed the council. He began by thanking the council for their help in 2020 and said it was his opinion the outdoor serving saved his businesses. He said that he had customers who were anxious to see the outdoor seating return this year, and he encouraged the council to pass the motion to approve parklets.

Roate also noted that he has already started getting together the materials he will need for his parklet. He said that he had invested $3,000 in furnishings and would also be investing in the required stationary barriers as outlined in the ordinance.

Stationary safety barriers are required to separate the dining area from traffic and adjacent parking spaces. The barriers may be decorated by the businesses and should be done so in a tasteful manner.

During the discussion Monday night, aldermen agreed that the city should, for the next couple of years at least, reduce the fee to a minimal amount. They settled on a fee of $25 per parklet (two spaces) per year.

Rick Hoefle, who will be taking office the first of May as Ward 4 Alderman, did caution aldermen that he felt the city was giving away several parking spaces and that it could hinder shopper parking for other businesses. Welch said that the spaces allotted would be located directly in front of the business's storefront, so that wasn’t a concern from his point of view. In addition, the ordinance states there shall be no more than two parklets per city block. Welch said that he also felt that there would be no more than three or four downtown businesses who took advantage of the parklet, so again that would not be a significant number of parking spaces lost.

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The aldermen also talked about offering city owned picnic tables to those who do not yet have the means to purchase furnishings or store them off season.

They agreed on a monthly per table rental fee which is more in tune with being a security deposit. Each table shall rent for $25 per month. At the end of the season, if tables are returned undamaged with little wear and tear, the full amount paid for rent during the season will be returned to the business.

Welch said that he did want to limit the number of city owned tables made available to businesses. It was estimated that the city owns more than 20 tables that are not designated to a city park. Last year the city had taken tables from the city parks to give to the downtown businesses, but they would not be doing that this year. Welch also noted that the city is planning to hold the Third Friday Downtown events this summer and needed tables for that as well.

Aldermen decided that the number of total tables being offered should not exceed 15, and that tables would be rented out on a first come first served basis.

If tables are damaged and need to be repaired or replaced, the cost of the repair or replacement will be deducted from the monthly rent per table paid by the business.

Aldermen discussed the application and approval process. It was suggested that the application would be filed and approved by the building and zoning office. If an application was not approved then the applicant could appeal to the council. However, Ron Fleshman thought would not be right. He said that the Building and Safety Officer Wes Woodhall would be the expert in the safety of the parklet and whether or not the business was prepared to comply with the ordinance rules. Therefore, his decision should not be usurped by the city council. He said the council should respect that Woodhall will do his job correctly and that if an applicant is denied then the city should stand behind that.

It was also discussed that if an application did not pass, the business owner could make changes to their plan for a parklet and re-apply.

The ordinance states that the parklets shall be permitted from April 1st to November 1st from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

City Attorney John Hoblit said that the application was not yet ready. He said it was almost finished and should be completed soon. He added that the application would have to be changed now to reflect the fee changes and added option of table rental. He asked if the aldermen wanted to approve immediately the application contingent on the changes outlined on Monday evening. The other option would be to bring the application back for review at the April 13th committee of the whole and approve at the April 19th voting meeting.

Bateman said that the downtown businesses were anxious to get their parklets set up so he would be okay with approving the application immediately. Others agreed.

Hoblit will move forward with finishing the application document and parklets should be showing up in the downtown area probably later this month.

[Nila Smith]

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