EDMONDS — String lights illuminated restaurant “streateries” along Main Street early Wednesday morning.
Heeding the advice of the public, Edmonds City Council members agreed Tuesday to amend their original decision on streateries, the outdoor dining structures that occupy the public right-of-way, typically parking spots. They voted 5-2 to cut a $4,000 fee in half and offer restaurant owners the opportunity to keep their streateries through the end of April for $500 per month.
Last month, Edmonds City Council members voted to extend the city’s streateries program through the end of April, while imposing what Mayor Mike Nelson deemed the highest permit fee in the nation. Councilmember Will Chen argued the rate was justified for restaurants’ use of parking spaces, and the money was to be used to lease private parking spaces.
For many restaurant owners, streateries were a godsend. Streateries allowed them to keep workers and continue service as the pandemic ravaged the restaurant industry. But a handful of restaurant owners decided they couldn’t afford to keep theirs at the cost of $4,000. Business owners were given until the end of 2021 to come up with the cash.
Restaurants that opt for the new arrangement will have until May 15 to remove their streateries. Those who have already paid the permit fee will be refunded the difference.
“I wish it hadn’t taken all the way till the fourth meeting to do this,” Shubert Ho, executive chef and owner of Feedme Hospitality & Restaurant Group told The Daily Herald. “And to put all us restaurants in a precarious position of politics.”
The $500 monthly fee aligns with a December proposal from a committee of Downtown Edmonds Merchants Association representatives and streatery participants, but for some it was still too high.
“This became a thing about numbers and cost,” said Jeff Barnett, owner of Salish Sea Brewing.
Salish Sea no longer can offer the option to dine and drink outdoors.
“Governor (Jay) Inslee could decide under the emergency order that is still in place — he could call a press conference today and say, as of tomorrow, there’s no more indoor dining,” Salish Sea Brewing co-owner Erika Barnett said.
Joan Wan, owner of Claire’s Pantry, told The Herald she decided to take down her streatery after the council’s initial decision.
Many business owners told city staff they were concerned about the high permit fees, development services director Susan McLaughlin told The Herald. About a dozen businesses paid the original $4,000 permit fee. That fee was 30 times the average permit cost in the jurisdictions the city researched, McLaughlin said.
Parking continued to be the primary point of contention Tuesday, as council members spent two hours debating the purpose of the permit fee.
Councilmember Kristiana Johnson called the fee “rent” for restaurants’ use of parking spaces.
However, McLaughlin said the city had the ability to lease private parking spaces under the original streatery permit fee of $110. She said the city could also use pandemic recovery dollars for the spaces.
In December, city officials said 17 existing streateries occupied just over two dozen parking spots in the city.
Councilmembers Laura Johnson and Susan Paine were critical of those suggesting high streatery fees were necessary to offset the value of parking spaces.
“We’re interfering with businesses being able to have predictable and regular business practices,” Paine said. “… What we’re also doing is messing around with people’s jobs.”
Paine originally proposed extending the program through the duration of Gov. Jay Inslee’s public health emergency for a $200-per-month fee.
Laura Johnson reiterated the goal of the original ordinance permitting outdoor dining in the public right-of-way: protecting economic and public health. She also said, while holding up a line chart, there’s been a 400% increase in COVID-19 transmission in the county since council began considering extending the city’s streateries program.
Ho and the Barnetts said they’re worried about the impact omicron will have — and is already having — on their staff and business.
Restaurants’ first payment toward the $2,000 is due Jan. 15. For streateries that only occupy one parking space, the fee is $1,000, or $250 per month.
“I’m glad they took mercy on us,” Ho said. “Onward.”