Extending Outdoor Dining into 2022

As we begin to fully reopen our bars and restaurants this Summer, one thing that is here to stay is outdoor dining.  Last June, SDOT created a free temporary permit program that has helped restaurants and merchants to stay in business in the face of challenging conditions. To date, SDOT has  issued about 200 free  Street Use permits under the temporary program.    

We know that our small business and restaurants are the hearts of our neighborhoods and have been the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Seattle provided some of the first in the country small business relief programs last Spring, we also create new programs so that business and residents could better use our streets and sidewalks for biking, walking, and dining.  

Outdoor dining was loved by so many small businesses and residents, and its exactly the vision we want for our city post-pandemic: vibrant neighborhoods where anyone can live, walk, work, and play.   

In recent weeks, SDOT and Councilmember Dan Strauss worked closely together to draft legislation to extend temporary Safe Starts permits allowing businesses to continue operate into 2022. This proposed extension would provide businesses with more predictability to plan ahead while we develop a more permanent program. City Council is expected to vote on legislation to extend the temporary Safe Starts permits, thus allowing these businesses to continue operating outdoor cafes, retail merchandise displays, and temporary vending locations until May 31, 2022.  

SDOT streamlined the permitting process to allow businesses to quickly obtain a free permit to open a temporary outdoor café, merchandise display on the sidewalk or curbside, or a free street closure permit - allowing businesses to operate in the street in front of their business.  

The temporary permits were currently set to expire on October 31, 2021, which would now be extended until May 2022. If the legislation is approved, the permits for temporary cafés, merchandise displays, and vending would be extended automatically if they are located on the sidewalk or curbside, while permits to close larger portions of the street would be reviewed individually for extensions on a case-by-case basis.  

This extension would provide businesses with much needed predictability, while the City develops a transition plan for long term or seasonal permitting options. The plan will be developed with businesses, disability rights advocates, and other neighborhood stakeholders’ engagement.  

Since the temporary permits were introduced last summer, SDOT staff has worked with permit holders to ensure that sidewalk cafés and merchandise displays follow ADA guidelines and do not create an obstacle for people with disabilities, including working with the Disability Mobility initiative at Disability Rights Washington to create a video. The video educates business owners and managers on how to keep the sidewalk clear for everyone and why accessibility for all is important.   

Throughout the extension, SDOT would continue to work with Seattle & King County Public Health, the Seattle Fire Department, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods’ Historic Districts, and other internal and external partners to maintain their continued support for these temporarily free options, expedited permitting processes, and the temporary allowance of non-standard structures. Extending these permits gives the City the ability to better support small businesses, neighborhoods, and encourage resident to safely visit their favorite spots in Seattle – especially the weather gets warmer.