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San Rafael advances new outdoor dining regulations

San Rafael advances new outdoor dining regulations

The San Rafael City Council has unanimously approved an ordinance giving officials authority to enforce outdoor dining guidelines.

The council made minor amendments to the ordinance Monday allowing flexibility for restaurant owners who have existing nonconforming “streetery” structures, or parklets, as long as they meet the intent of the guidelines.

“We understand that parklets have been a lifeline, a tiny lifeline, but a lifeline for the businesses over the last couple of years,” Mayor Kate Colin said, adding that the entire council has supported the program. “I think it shows well and clear that we want an activated downtown.”

Although the city has had an outdoor dining program in place since 2015, streamlined temporary permits were authorized during the COVID-19 lockdown, allowing other business to serve outdoors with little guidance or regulation.

That temporary program ends Nov. 30. The new program will impose the same standards on all structures in an effort to enhance vitality while ensuring safety and fairness, city staff said.

The new program, which the council unanimously approved in June, requires a series of approvals prior to the expiration of the temporary program.

Under the new rules, structures can occupy a maximum of two parking spaces. They will only be approved if at least 70% of street parking within a three-block radius of a business is still available, including in spaces in parking garages.

Wood and metal are approved materials. Overhead structures or anything built 6 feet or taller will require a building permit and inspection. It will be mandatory for all structures to be in compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. Wheel stop buffers and traffic delineators will be required to make them visible to motorists.

The program establishes cleanliness standards and requires tables and chairs be secured when the business is closed. Any lights or heaters that require electrical connections might require additional permits.

City staff recommended a $2,000 application fee, which will be waived for the first year of the program. The fee will not be refunded.

There also will be an annual $3,600-per-parking-space-occupied rental fee — which would equal $7,200 for most businesses. The amount is equal to what the city would normally collect for parking fees per space. The city is proposing a 50% discount for the first year of the program and a 25% discount for the second year.

A $2,000 deposit will be collected to cover costs in the event a business closes and cannot afford to remove the structure.

The city has offered to remove parklets at a cost of $1,500 for businesses that wish to not continue in the new program. So far, about six business owners have indicated they might not want to continue, said April Miller, director of public works.

Surinder Sroa, owner of Lotus Cuisine of India, said he was concerned about the wheel-stop requirement around the structure. He said his streetery would have to be moved to accommodate the feature, which would be costly.

Rafat Raie, deputy director of public works, said city staff can work with those structures to see if there is an alternative to the wheel stop.

Adam Violante, owner of Pint Size Lounge, said his streetery is one structure used by two property owners for three businesses. The rules do not explicitly give guidance on how this unique situation can comply.

City staff suggested the rules could allow for one business owner to apply, and a sublease could be arranged to share the space.

Violante and others also expressed concern over financial hardship because of COVID-19 and asked for leniency on fees.

“I think it’s fair what you’re asking, but I think it’s a lot to ask all at once,” he said.

Miller said, “Based on recent feedback received, we have not finalized staff’s recommendations on the fees.”

The ordinance will return for a second reading at the council meeting on Oct. 3, when the council is also set to adopt a resolution to formalize the guidelines and establish a fee schedule.

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