City paves way for sidewalk service

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Council OKs ordinance allowing limited number of tables in public right-of-way

  • City paves way for sidewalk service
    City paves way for sidewalk service
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Tourists visited Ouray over Memorial Day, enjoying beautiful weather. Some visitors were surprised to find restaurants unable to accommodate in-person dining, and groups of visitors instead ordered take-out meals and took them to go. State orders limiting restaurants to take-out and delivery service were still in place over the holiday weekend. This meant diners were allowed to take food and eat it off the restaurant’s property, even if that meant a park bench in front of the restaurant instead of on the restaurant’s patio. Health department officials and law enforcement dealt with numerous complaints related to dining over the weekend.Erin McIntyre — Ouray County Plaindealer

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The City of Ouray has long been known as the Switzerland of America. This summer, thanks to recent action taken by the Ouray City Council and new state guidelines, its downtown business district may take on a little extra European flair, as restaurants and taverns morph into sidewalk cafes and beer gardens to make up for restricted indoor seating due to COVID-19 social-distancing measures.

At an emergency meeting May 21, the City Council unanimously adopted a new food service ordinance spelling out how to safely accommodate outdoor dining, in anticipation of Gov. Jared Polis’ new guidelines on how restaurants can safely reopen, which were released Monday.

Councilors were masked and socially distanced, with only a few staff members present. The meeting - and a work session held immediately prior to it - were broadcast on Zoom, with about 20 to 3o community members tuning in.

The newly adopted ordinance and an accompanying permitting process pave the way for restaurants, taverns, bistros, coffee shops, brewpubs and other on-premises dining establishments to set up a limited number of tables on city sidewalks in designated “Temporary Outside Areas” in front of their businesses for the summer season.

Tables must be far enough apart to comply with social-distancing guidelines, while also providing adequate space for pedestrians in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Restaurants may also utilize nearby sidewalk corner bump-outs and parking spots along city avenues (running perpendicular to Main Street) for additional outdoor seating.

Businesses that wish to take advantage of these measures will, in effect, be temporarily leasing” portions of the city’s rights-of-way, although the city will not charge for the lease and also intends to waive associated application fees.

“These are extraordinary times,” Mayor Pro Tem John Wood said. “It will be way more beneficial for us to say that between now and September, we don’t need these fees. We want our businesses to get back to being solvent and successful.”

Restaurant owners will be responsible for paying for barriers, signage, trash removal and other requirements to expand their operations outdoors, and must make sure food and alcohol remain within the permitted area of expansion. Permitted areas may include privately owned patios and parking areas in the alleyways behind Main Street businesses, as well as city rights-of-way out in front.

Council also discussed temporarily eliminating a 12-day limit on huckstering permits for retail stores which would allow outdoor displays of merchandise through the summer season to help with social distancing - and contemplated relaxing regulations that prohibit consumption of alcohol on city property. This would allow customers to consume take-out beverages in designated areas such as Fellin Park.

However, councilors generally nixed the idea of transforming entire side streets that intersect with Main Street into larger communal eating and drinking areas.

Community Development Coordinator Aja Tibbs said the Colorado Department of Transportation would also likely reject any proposal to expand outdoor seating into the CDOT right-of-way, which extends from curb to curb across Main Street all the way through town.

The newly adopted emergency measures sunset on Sept. 12, but council has the option to extend them if necessary into the fall season.

Ouray County recently applied for a variance from the state to allow restaurants and bars in the county that have been restricted to take-out service for the past two months to fully reopen. That variance was still pending when Polis on Monday released his updated and extended “safer at home” executive order, green-lighting the reopening of restaurants across the state.

The order allowed restaurants to reopen on Wednesday for in-person dining at 5o percent capacity of the indoor posted occupancy code limit, but not exceeding 5o people, whichever is less. They are also encouraged to provide as much outdoor services as possible. Bars will remain closed. Establishments that do not serve food will be evaluated in June.

To help restaurants regain some of their lost indoor real estate, the Colorado Liquor Enforcement Division has also recently loosened its own guidelines to allow restaurants with liquor licenses to expand service into contiguous outdoor spaces. The new guidelines allow premises with liquor licenses to serve outside without going through a lengthy modification-of-premises process.

Local businesses with a liquor license must comply with both state and city guidelines if they wish to expand outdoors.

In other news from the May 21 meeting:

• Council unanimously adopted a resolution allowing a student group to place a banner on the fence at Fellin Park for 3o days thanking the Ouray County Unified Command for its service to the community throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

• Action on a resolution encouraging the use of face coverings this summer within the City of Ouray was postponed until council’s next regular meeting on June I.