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New Permit Processes Encourage Sidewalk Cafes in Tacoma
We've heard a few people take note of an increase in the number of outdoor dining spaces popping up on sidewalks around Tacoma.
The increase in outdoor tables and chairs, and a few umbrellas, is due at least in part to an initiative to make changes in how the City of Tacoma handles requests from restaurant owners who want to let their customers sit outside. The changes are being rolled out in a pilot program to make it easier for businesses to try out outdoor dining spaces.
Sidewalk cafes are regulated in the Tacoma Municipal Code under "Street Occupancies." Prior to the new pilot, restaurant owners wanting to place tables and chairs on the sidewalks in front of their businesses followed the same process as other applications for a City of Tacoma Street Occupancy Permit. This included a $120 application fee, multiple signatures and approvals, and could take up to four to six weeks, then there was an annual $90 inspection fee to check for compliance with requirements.
The new changes create a process for sidewalk cafes that is separate and distinct from other Street Occupancy Permits, and has two tiers for applications, depending on complexity. Neither of these application types will be subject to the $120 fee.
Temporary Sidewalk Cafe Permit
Business owners wanting to just put out tables and chairs, but no permanent structures, can now apply for a "temporary" 90-day permit through what is essentially an over-the-counter application. These temporary occupancy permits would give business owners a chance to try out the sidewalk cafe idea with less permanent seating. If the applicant has all the necessary application materials are fully prepared, and any site issues resolved prior to application, they could put the tables out the same week they apply for the permit.
Sidewalk Cafe Permit
For requests for ongoing outdoor seating, including those involving more structural changes - say the installation of awnings or decking - the process will still require a slightly more in-depth review, but the process will be expedited, with an intention of not taking any more than four weeks. Unlike the temporary 90-day permit, this permit is renewable on an annual basis subject to a renewal fee.
Staff will continue to review City processes and procedures around SOP applications, including fee structures, and return to council in the fall with further recommendations on what changes, if any, should be made going forward.
Up to now sidewalk cafes have accounted for about 13% of all SOPs issued by the City. Of the 45 SOP applications received by the City last year, 38 were for this type of use. The streamlining of processes and elimination of the inital application fee can be expected to push those numbers up.
We couldn't ask for a better summer for it.
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