The City of Scottsdale has modified local regulations and waived fees to provide relief to businesses affected by the recent cornavirus business shutdowns and encourage social distancing.
The changes allow City Council to temporarily suspend ordinances and contracts and give City Manager Jim Thompson authority to execute “specified actions” to promote an economic recovery.
The changes, approved unanimously on consent by Council June 16, include waiving fees to set up outdoor patios and lifting restrictions limiting the length of special event permits needed for businesses to set up outdoors on city property.
Council also waived a $30 permit fee for businesses that want to post temporary banners and also allowing businesses the ability to request an extension beyond the typical 35-day usage period.
Council also approved providing a retroactive credit to businesses that paid in-lieu parking fees from March 21 to May 10, because they were closed and did not utilize the spaces.
In-lieu parking is a system in which smaller property owners downtown can pay into a fund when they cannot meet city parking requirements on site.
Some changes are similar to those suggested by Council candidate Betty Janik in May.
Janik asked the police and transportation departments to consider the feasibility of temporarily shutting down some streets downtown on nights and weekends to create pedestrian malls that enable businesses to expand operations outdoors.
Janik said she was inspired by successful annual festivals like Parada del Sol and the Pearl Street Mall in Denver where she used to live.
She said she met with Thompson and he was supportive of the idea.
“We have a lot of festivals downtown in Scottsdale and they close up a lot of the streets… it’s been very successful,” Janik said. “It’s kind of an extension of things that we’ve already seen.”
The city did not go as far as Janik suggested – shutting down streets on its own – but did make it easier for local businesses to request those shutdowns or expand outdoor operations on their own property.
In May, city spokesman Kelly Corsette said the street shutdowns could be requested by local businesses via a special events permit.
“To do that there needs to be concurrence from the other businesses in the area in addition to the restaurants,” Corsette said.
The temporary changes will make it easier for businesses to receive those permits by removing the requirement that a special event provide a “unique organized, civic, cultural, educational, entertainment or recreational activity or experience.”
Council also lifted rules restricting special events to no more than 10 consecutive days or 24 total days during the calendar year and limiting sidewalk sales to no more than two sales a year or more than 10 consecutive days.
In effect, the changes allow for “business extension for retail sales, added dining areas, or added service areas through December 31, 2020,” according to a city memo.
Council also waived the outdoor dining permit fees – which restaurants pay to set up a patio – paid by restaurants during the shutdown.
Because restaurants already paid the fee for that timeframe, the waiver will be expressed as a reimbursement for upcoming fees for the period beginning July 1, according to the city.
When asked about Janik’s initial proposal, a handful of downtown restaurant owners – who decreased their capacity by up to around 50 percent – told the Progress they support any idea that helps local businesses serve more people safely.
“I think this is a great idea until the end of August,” said Ryan Hibbert, CEO of Riot Hospitality, parent company of the Farm and Craft restaurant.
“It would allow for an increased patio type space to increase the amount of dining tables in an open-air environment so we can pay our expenses and keep more staff employed,” Hibbert said. “Arizona is a perfect climate for this.”
Not everyone agreed with Hibbert’s take on Arizona’s climate, arguing it is already difficult for restaurants and businesses to take advantage of expanded outdoor dining as temperatures hit 100 degrees and higher well into the evening hours.
“I see it happening in other states and cities; only problem here is the heat,” said Joe Ieraci, owner of The House Brasserie.
He wasn’t alone.
“We’re for anything that’s helps small businesses, particularly restaurants, but don’t feel that’s it’s a viable option as the temperature outside rises consistently above 100 degrees,” said M. Dana Mule, owner of Hula’s Modern Tiki. “Maybe at a different time of year?”
Janik acknowledged that weather could be an issue and asked the city to be flexible to allow businesses to take advantage of the occasional cooler evening early in the summer “hopefully through June or the 4th of July weekend, which would be nice.”
Still, with the rules in effect through at least Dec. 31, businesses can still take advantage when the weather cools off.
But then there is a question of cost.
Janik’s initial proposal asked the city to shut down streets to give businesses places to open up outdoors.
Though the new rules ease requirements placed on businesses, they still require owners to expand on their own property or pay for the use of city space.
For instance, downtown restaurant The Drunk Munk has an application before the city to amend an existing agreement with the city to expand its patio from 314 square feet to 1,694 square feet.
Under the proposal, which will go before Council on July 1, the restaurant will pay the city $12,857 for using city land – up from the $2,327 it paid for the smaller area.
A few other downtown restaurants and bars, including Diego Pops and Coach House, have already expanded outdoor service on their own properties.
-Kristine Cannon contributed to this report.