BY SCOTT SULLIVAN EDITOR
Pop-up patios will return to downtown Saugatuck this season, but with changes.
City council Monday approved continuing to allow restaurants to use sidewalk and parking space rights-of-way in front of their establishments for outdoor serving, but:
• Adding a $200 per parking space used monthly charge.
• Changing maximum allowable patio space from 8×60 feet to 8×40 feet. If outdoor dining is located on an angled parking street, the patio may extend 15 feet from the curb’s face instead of 8 feet.
• Prohibiting carpeting or ground coverings of any kind in patio spaces. Storm drains must not be covered.
• Requiring electrical lighting and traffic reflectors in expanded outdoor dining spaces.
• Barrier structures must not be made of flexible materials, eg. wood and plastic. Examples of flexible materials include rope and canvas.
Funds raised through the fee, per recommendation by city attorney Chris Patterson from Fahey Schultz Burych Rhodes, will be directed towards both the city’s public transit system — Interurban shuttles to and from the Saugatuck High School parking lot have been used summers for many years to mitigate downtown parking congestion — plus the administrative and regulatory costs associated with processing applications and monitoring/enforcing the new regulations.
Saugatuck first allowed licensed pop-up patios — now also referred to as expanded outdoor dining areas (EODAs) — in 2020 to help Covid indoor-restricted businesses counter loss of revenue.
The policy, continued April 30 through Nov. 30, 2021, allowed bar and restaurant owners paying a nominal fee to serve patrons on the parkway and street surface next to their private properties.
Some pursued it actively, others less so. Among benefits: more revenue opportunities during an indoors-restricted time, plus a “European ambience” enjoyed by many.
Tradeoffs included loss of sidewalk and parking spaces in an already-congested downtown, occupying rights-of-way paid for and owned by all city taxpayers.
Covid’s not gone. Discovery of the new Omicron variant has spiked world- and nationwide infections recently. Still, with vaccinations widely available — even though not everyone avails him- or herself of them — past social-distancing and masking mandates are now suggestions observed less frequently.
Council discussed keeping, scrapping or modifying its policy this winter, surveyed citizens both online and at meetings, and arrived at the approach approved for this season Monday night.