City of La Crosse officials will vote on Thursday in a special meeting to expand ways that restaurants and other shops can operate outdoors, in an attempt to both help businesses and keep patrons safe amid COVID-19.
The “Outdoor Cafe Program” would create new avenues for restaurants and other businesses to offer outdoor dining and shopping in a variety of new ways, like use of sidewalks, plazas, parking lots and even some city streets.
It comes as businesses struggle operate under public health guidelines that limit indoor seating and occupancy levels due to COVID-19. But health officials have indicated that the risk of spreading the virus is smaller in outdoor spaces.
The city already offers permits to provide outdoor seating on city-owned sidewalks, but this program would allow existing spaces to be expanded, including to things like parking lots and already-paved plazas, and offer the option to more businesses.
But a big change would be offering up city streets for businesses to occupy.
Businesses could request to set up shop in adjacent parallel or angled street parking spots, with barriers to separate both pedestrian and vehicle traffic from the patron space, depending on rate of traffic in the area.
The city is also looking at implementing “Cafe Zones,” where entire portions of a street could be blocked off for even more expansive business operations.
Specifically, parts of Pearl, Caledonia and Main streets are all under consideration to become Cafe Zones, but would still need further approval.
The Cafe Zones would block traffic for the duration of the program, which would expire on Nov. 13 if approved, but would still allow space for emergency service vehicles and bicycle traffic.
All businesses will need to apply for the program permits, which would then need the approval from the Board of Public Works and be required to meet municipal design codes.
All outdoor cafe spaces will also need to follow ADA compliant standards and adhere to local, state and federal regulations.
Under the program, businesses can also request to expand alcohol license premises to be able to serve in the new outdoor spaces, and fees for that change could be waived for those heavily impacted by COVID-19.
Two city committees and the common council will meet at 4:45 p.m. Thursday to vote on the program, which will all be livestreamed.
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