The city of Brainerd has a plan in place to provide outdoor space for bars and restaurants without patios who wish to open next week.
After Gov. Tim Walz’s announcement last Wednesday, May 20, allowing bars and restaurants to open only for outdoor services with no more than 50 people beginning June 1, city staff in Brainerd worked to come up with a plan that would help businesses that don’t already have patios.
Brainerd City Council members met in a special meeting via WebEx Wednesday, May 27, to discuss guidelines proposed by staff to allow restaurants and bars to use public rights-of-way to temporarily extend their premises.
City Administrator Jennifer Bergman said staff met internally before Wednesday’s meeting to discuss how the city can do it’s best to safely help bars and restaurants, many of which are already struggling.
Under the guidelines, establishments can request a temporary premise extension using an immediately adjacent public right-of-way within 10 feet of the curb. Essentially, businesses can use public on-street parking spaces to extend their premises, but not sidewalks. Community Development Director David Chanski said sidewalks must be kept open to follow Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility laws.
Council member Jan Lambert asked about the option of closing off sections of streets downtown, like Laurel Street for example, to allow businesses to extend farther. Chanski said that idea drew concern from the police and fire departments about getting emergency vehicles in those areas if needed. He added staff does not want to take away the ability for curbside services from other businesses operating in that area, as some residents are not comfortable going into stores yet.
In order to receive the temporary extension, business owners must submit an application to the city’s community development department and receive approval. The application must include a diagram of the temporary extended premises. The initial guidelines staff presented required written consent from each adjacent property owner allowing a business to extend its premises. The council agreed to only require permission from businesses whose parking spots would be affected by the extension at the request of Council President Gabe Johnson, who said it seemed tedious and unnecessary to get consent from businesses that wouldn’t even be affected.
Initial guidelines also required a copy of the business’s COVID-19 preparedness plan, a lighting plan, noise mitigation plan and parking plan.
Council members agreed to nix those requirements after Johnson said he believed there were too many plans needed. He also said he did not want the city to be in possession of COVID-19 preparedness plans and create the illusion the city was approving those plans.
Council member Tad Erickson agreed, noting it’s a lot to ask for businesses to get all of those materials ready by June 1.
Instead, the council agreed to have a checkbox on the application asking if businesses have a COVID-19 preparedness plan and advising them they need to continue following city ordinances, such as those relating to light and noise. City code prohibits excessive noise between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Lambert suggested requiring establishments to close at 10 p.m. to get rid of any potential noise issues, but the rest of the council opposed that idea. Tad Erickson said businesses are so restricted already that setting a closing time of 10 p.m. might not even make it worthwhile for some places to open at all. Johnson agreed.
Council member Dave Pritschet noted any ordinance violations would likely be complaint driven.
In regards to parking plans, Johnson noted many downtown businesses don’t have their own private parking anyway and only have street parking to begin with, so a parking plan is unnecessary.
“If parking becomes an issue, we have done something amazing here,” Johnson said.
Other requirements include:
Temporary premises extensions must be inspected by the city’s fire marshal and building official before service can take place.
Temporary extensions must be enclosed (e.g. roped off, temporarily fenced in or chained off) so access is controlled.
The designated temporary extended premises must remain for the duration of the time allowed. Essentially, Chanski said staff only wants to have to inspect the area once. The only exception is for street sweeping every Wednesday, when downtown extensions in the public right-of-way must be dismantled between 4:30-10 a.m. each week.
Businesses with liquor licenses must provide proof of their liquor liability insurance coverage extending to the temporary premises.
All aspects of Gov. Walz’s current and future executive orders must be followed, as well as guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from the Minnesota Department of Health.
The temporary extension of premises will be allowed until Oct. 31 or until further guidelines permitting indoor occupancy. Chanski said Crow Wing County and the city of Baxter set the same date. If the outdoor premises extensions end up working well, council members alluded to the idea of allowing something similar every summer.
Businesses who want to put up temporary tents or canopies will be able to do so without going through the regular process, which is a special permit from the fire department. Instead, authorization for such structures will be included in the application, and the council agreed to waive the tent fee at Johnson’s suggestion.
The council authorized the community development department to revoke or alter any temporary extension permit for violation of guidelines or by recommendation of the police or fire departments. Chanski said he wanted that power to lie with staff so they can address any issues right away and do not have to wait for the next council meetings. Business owners, however, will have the ability to appeal a revocation at the next regularly scheduled city council meeting.
After hammering out the logistics, council member Wayne Erickson said he appreciated the time staff put into this plan but does not think it will help businesses that don’t have parking lots to extend into.
“I’m just very frustrated with our governor and with this whole process — all the extra work our city employees had to go through — and I don’t think it’s going to help a lot of our downtown businesses,” he said. “... I’m just very frustrated as a former businessman.”
He said the process of getting approval for temporary extensions may also be overwhelming for some business owners, though he acknowledged there’s really no way to simplify things from a legal standpoint.
“A lot of them (business owners) are just going to be so discouraged, and I don’t know how to change it,” Wayne Erickson said. “Like I said, it’s up to our governor, and it’s just foolishness. I can’t understand how you cannot open 50%. … Unless you have a patio or a parking lot, this isn’t going to work.”
Bergman said she understood Erickson’s concerns and reaffirmed staff’s commitment to helping bars and restaurants get open in whatever way possible.
“The commitment from your city staff is to help our businesses any way that we possibly can, try to make this simple and to try to guide them through this process while, again, keeping our residents safe,” she said. “... City staff is truly here to help our bars and restaurants.”
And if that means having to work on weekends, Chanski added, so be it.
Wayne Erickson again commended city staff for their work and going out of their way to try to help businesses as much as possible.
Mayor Dave Badeaux said earlier in the meeting everyone should keep in mind this plan will not work for every business.
Staff expects to make applications available Thursday and get out a news release outlining all specific guidelines, as well as easy-to-find links to city ordinances for businesses to make sure they are in compliance.