Typical view of the Parisian street with tables of brasserie (cafe) in Paris, France

The City of Scottsdale expanded permit exceptions and fee reductions this month in an effort to aid businesses impacted by COVID-19.

The actions, approved by Council on Oct. 6, cut red tape to make it easier for businesses to expand operations outdoors onto public property.

But some downtown business owners have criticized the city for abandoning public space too freely, arguing it will damage the pedestrian experience downtown.

The new rules are effective through May 31, 2021 and expand existing temporary exceptions approved by Council June 16.

Typically, businesses applying to expand their operations outdoors onto city property must prove the event provides “a unique organized, civic, cultural, educational, entertainment or recreational activity or experience”.

But the city has waived that requirement in order to allow more businesses to expand dining, retail and other services outdoors.

The city also temporarily removed a rule restricting outdoor activities to 10 consecutive days or 24 total days in a calendar year and limiting sidewalk sales to two 10-day periods in a calendar year.

According to a Council memo, the reduced regulations were crafted to help businesses have more space to operate while abiding by the state’s social distancing guidelines.

“The ability to temporarily suspend ordinance provisions would help a variety of struggling businesses as they begin to re-open and become part of the new economic arena,” the memo read.

The city will charge restaurants $7.59 per square foot per day for temporary use of outdoor space for dining.

That’s the same price the city charged downtown restaurant Drunk Munk in July when it approved an expansion of the restaurant’s patio from 314 square feet to 1,694 square feet.

The city also cut its fees, reducing permit application review fee from $90 to $10; simple permit fee from $50 to $10; and standard permit fee from $200 to $10.

The changes could cost the city around $20,000 in lost revenue, according to the memo.

The reduced regulations are similar to suggestions made by council candidate Betty Janik in May after the pandemic and mandatory business shutdowns began to impact bars and restaurants downtown.

More recently, mayoral candidate Lisa Borowsky called for a similar reduction during a candidate forum in September.  

Though the temporary loosening of regulations seemed to answer that call, the city’s decision to give businesses a freer rein over public space has been met with some criticism.

In the case of the Drunk Munk expansion, some downtown property owners argued the new patio’s significant encroachment on the corner of 6th Avenue and Stetson Drive is a net negative for downtown.

Keith Zollman, owner of downtown design firm Studio KZ, opposed the expansion because it would restrict the flow of pedestrians on a critical corner that bridges Scottsdale Fashion Square with the Southbridge area near 5th Avenue.

He also said it would damage the area’s character by removing mature trees and sandstone landscaping rocks at corners throughout downtown.

“This proposal literally seeks to remove public space from the public sphere and fence it off for the benefit of one entity,” Zollman wrote. “Once taken, it will not be given back.  I cannot, with any sense of civic-mindedness, support this proposal.”

Steve Johnson, who owns the nearby Atelier bath and kitchen showroom, said the city did not do enough outreach before approving the change and that he only found out about it when he saw construction and demolition begin.

Ben Moriarity, a city planner, said the city informed businesses within 250 feet of the corner about the patio expansion.

“Typically, we do not require the applicant to perform citizen outreach for a Development Review Minor for landscape improvements or patios,” Moriarity said. “For this case we asked the applicant to notify property owners within 250 (feet) of the property.”

But Johnson, whose property is about 500 feet from the corner, said the change was not minor to him. Like Zollman, Johnson said the new patio could hurt other area businesses by negatively impacting the aesthetics and pedestrian experience downtown.