Restaurants in Baxter will have more options to serve customers when they expand to add outdoor seating June 1.

Recognizing the negative effect the efforts to slow the virus have had on business, the Baxter City Council met in a special session via Zoom Wednesday, May 27, and unanimously approved adding outdoor dining areas to the mix.

Last week, Gov. Tim Walz’s announced restaurants could reopen beyond curbside sales but were limited to outdoor seating for a maximum of 50 customers.

With a majority of Baxter restaurants not currently having outdoor dining facilities, nor the capacity to install permanent facilities, Baxter City Administrator Brad Chapulis said staff drafted a resolution with temporary waivers and changes to existing city regulations opening parking lots and grass areas for outdoor dining while the governor’s guidelines remain in effect.

Chapulis said looking at the health and safety of patrons, employees and the public, the city is requiring businesses to fill out a single sheet temporary land use application, which can be approved administratively — meaning it can move along more quickly with staff review.

“So we are looking at basically one summer of having these temporary regulations,” Chapulis said.

The temporary regulations would be in effect until Oct. 31 or when Gov. Tim Walz’s peacetime emergency order ends.

Chapulis met with individuals at the restaurants in the city to talk about what they were doing or considering prior to Wednesday’s meeting.

“All of them have been very supportive of the conversation and knowing that we are looking at ways to try and aid them or assist them while they try and maneuver their way through these new established guidelines that they have to abide by,” Chapulis said.

Chapulis thanked staff for helping put the information out quickly as possible and look at as many situations as possible.

“This is a proposed document that is intended to try and minimize if not move us aside from being an obstacle to having these businesses be open in a timely fashion,” Chapulis said.

Council member Mark Cross said he had no objections.

“I’m glad we are moving forward to get things opened back up,” Cross said. “My recommendation is to move forward.”

Council member Connie Lyscio said, “I agree 110%.”

Council member Todd Holman noted when businesses can go inside they may not be able to use the capacity they were used to before the pandemic. “I could see a scenario where the businesses would want to do both,” Holman said, of having limited in-door seating in combination with outdoor seating. Holman said he was supportive of that but wondered if that in-between time was addressed in the resolution. Chapulis said it would. Holman recognized and thanked Chapulis for going door-to-door to businesses with many hours of conversations to get to the core of what was needed.

If at a later date inside dining spaces open and if businesses want to keep a large outdoor dining area, Josh Doty, community development director, said they would want to evaluate if that continued to work and in many instances he expects it would work for the business regarding parking or safety.

Mayor Darrel Olson said other municipalities are also putting an expiration date on the provisions.

“We’re allowing parking spaces to be used, we’re allowing some traffic flow that might not be ideal and so if things go back to normal we want to do maybe a reboot on all of that and take a look at that,” Olson said, adding if Oct. 31 comes and there needs to be more discussion the city can extend the timeline.

“I think it helps to show we are concerned and we do want to move things ahead,” Olson said.

The details

Existing restaurants may temporarily establish take-out, drive-up or drive-thru areas or outdoor dining areas. Many restaurants already offer curbside services in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and those with drive-thrus have continued that service while in-dining options were prohibited to help slow the spread of the virus.

The council created a temporary waiver to promote business activities during the pandemic. In the resolution, the council stated it recognizes the continued risk and threat of community spread of the virus and the continuing negative effect on businesses, which are challenged to provide social distancing for patrons and staff. That means depending on fewer seats as restaurants face a more limited capacity.

On June 1 in Baxter, as long as social distancing can be maintained, restaurants, bars and coffee shops may include outdoor seating for 50 customers as long as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health department requirements are followed. To assist businesses in creating outdoor seating, the city is waiving any fee but requiring a single page application form be filled out and submitted. The application form will be reviewed administratively by staff.

On-sale liquor establishments looking to amend an outdoor service area, and being in compliance with pertinent laws and regulations, can also obtain administrative approval. Approvals for outdoor seating can be revoked if the city administrator or police chief feel doing so is in the interest of public health, safety or welfare.

Businesses can locate dining areas on patios, mulch areas and green space. An enclosed dining area or partition is needed if seating is near high traffic areas. The city’s preference is to locate dining areas as far from traffic as possible and to make sure those areas are set off so drivers can easily and clearly recognize them as outdoor seating areas.

Any outdoor seating in the parking lots or drive aisles should have a temporary enclosure, be that a tent or fencing or roped off area. Temporary barriers may be required to protect diners. Open sight lines between the dining and vehicle areas are also required. Fire lanes should be avoided if possible.

The city added its parking requirement is one space for each 2.5 seats for the restaurant area and one space for each two seats in the bar area. “This requirement shall be used as a guide for outdoor dining areas to ensure that there is enough parking,” the city reported.

Those establishments serving liquor still have to follow state statutes, have a temporary fence enclosure that connects to a door in the building for any seating area where liquor is served so an individual cannot walk outside of a controlled area with alcohol. Those outdoor seating areas are required to be “compact and contiguous” and must be approved by the city.

Those not serving alcoholic beverages also need a temporary enclosure if the outdoor seating is in a paved parking area or drive aisle and are to follow the other city guidelines for being clearly identifiable to drivers, have temporary barriers to protect customers and staff and maintain open sight lines. Americans with Disabilities Act compliance for parking and open routes to the dining area and restrooms needs to be maintained.

If tents are used, they need to be open on all four sides. A single tent or several tents reaching a combined 700 square feet will need a separate tent permit from the building official.

Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchBizBuzz.