Klamath Falls to Increase Outdoor Dining Options During COVID Coronavirus Shutdown
The town of Klamath Falls is offering downtown restaurants a way to deal with the latest COVID-related restrictions on indoor dining by taking things to the streets – or, more specifically, to parking lots.
On Tuesday, Governor Kate Brown said counties, such as Klamath, which were in the “extreme” risk level were lowered by one risk level because the seven-day average increase across the state for COVID-19 positive hospital patients fell below 15 percent. This means that indoor meals and other activities will be allowed from Friday.
But Klamath Falls still sees the opportunity to expand the outdoor options.
Pedlets, which are blocked parking spaces for pedestrian access sometimes referred to as parklets, have recently gained popularity in towns like Bend and Boise. They allow businesses to extend their infrastructure outside onto the sidewalk, redirecting pedestrians through road space. Reductions and restaurant closings inside the pandemic have accelerated the trend in many urban areas.
Transmission of COVID-19 has been found to be significantly lower outdoors than indoors, and even the county’s most recent shift to categorizing “extreme risks” (which requires closing meals outside of it). ‘indoors) has doubled the capacity limit for alfresco dining – just indoors time for a wonderful spring time.
Scott Souders, director of development services for the city of Klamath Falls, said his department and the Klamath Falls Downtown Association contacted a few companies last year to gauge interest in implementing a formal program of local hawkers. They spent the rest of the year developing it. Souders said city officials decided to design a temporary emergency program for the coming weeks, when it looked like a ban on indoor eating would remain in place for some time.
“Over the past two days, we’ve been working to find ways to let businesses use the downtown sidewalks,” he said.
Souders took the matter to city council on Monday night, and they were unanimous in favor of the initiative. Now, downtown restaurants can contact their office or the Downtown Association to request permission to take over the sidewalks in front of their building for outdoor dining. They must always adhere to state guidelines requiring tables to be sufficiently spaced and leaving at least five feet of sidewalk space as space for pedestrians.
Businesses that want to occupy the entire sidewalk can work with the city to develop ADA ramps that divert pedestrians to an adjacent parking spot to bypass the outdoor dining area. Besides the potential purchase of materials to build this infrastructure if they choose to use a pedlet, Souders said the initiative is not expected to result in additional costs for the city. Restaurants will be responsible for setting up and taking down their own furniture each day.
“I don’t think it would be costly if they stay on the sidewalk and keep the five foot path. The goal is to make it easier for them, ”Souders said.
Souders is in the process of drafting an approval letter to be provided to interested restaurants, which will give them permission to extend to the sidewalks.
Sounders said the advice from the Oregon Liquor Commission allowed establishments that cater for minors and primarily serve food to temporarily extend their liquor licenses to sidewalk areas, so patrons did not have to to worry about sitting at a table on the sidewalk and having an alcoholic drink with their meals.
There are already a few restaurants that have expressed interest in the temporary pedlet program, and Sounders said the city plans to institute a formal program later this spring, open to businesses other than restaurants, although that will require a separate and more complex application process. During this go-around, he said businesses could contact him during the day to get the approval letter and be able to sit customers outside at lunchtime.
“I’m going to tell a company right away, ‘Do whatever you need to do to stay in business and get settled, and then I’ll work with you,’ Sounders said. “We have to support the restaurants that are so badly affected.”