EDMONDS — “Streateries” are here to stay for a few more months, now with a $4,000 price tag.
Their roughly 200-square-foot bar relied on the extra tables alongside the city street to bring back employees after the pandemic shuttered indoor service. But keeping the streateries is “a close call” with the new fee attached, and they’re not sure how to proceed, Taylor said.
The proposal to extend the city’s streateries program — slated to sunset at the year’s end — ignited weeks-long debate about parking, aesthetics and safety.
On Thursday , Edmonds City Council members voted 5-2 to keep them around.
They spent two hours considering compromises before settling on Councilmember Will Chen’s proposed $4,000 fee for street use through the end of April. The ordinance states the city will use the money to rent private parking spaces for public use.
As of Friday, the city was still looking into how to do that, said Patrick Doherty, director of community services.
Under the city’s original ordinance, businesses paid $110 to use a portion of the public right of way, often parking spaces, for outdoor dining.
Other cities, including Everett, Langley and Anacortes, have no permit fee for cafe seating in the public right of way, according to a city presentation.
Councilmember Laura Johnson called the $4,000 fee “elitist.”
Chen told The Daily Herald he calculated that number by taking the average commercial real estate rental price per square foot and applying it to the size of two parking spots in the city.
During Thursday’s meeting, he made a motion to lower that proposed rate to $2,000, but it failed.
Edmonds offers free street parking in much of the downtown core.
Some council members, like Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, consistently opposed the multi-thousand-dollar rates because of the burden it would place on small business owners. She called the proposal “absolutely ridiculous.”
Councilmember Kristiana Johnson said she supported the fee because it was “more limiting,” and she wanted to see the restaurants pay a “fair price.”
It was a “no win situation,” Councilmember Diane Buckshnis told The Herald. She believes the council needed more time to discuss the future of streateries.
The council was divided on the issue until the end, voting 4-3 to approve the $4,000 fee.
“Thanks to the actions of select council members last night, our city now has the shameful distinction of charging restaurants the highest permit fee in the nation,” Mayor Mike Nelson said in a statement Friday. “Our small businesses that were hurt the most will now need to pay the most. This action will have a crippling impact to our downtown.”
Council President Susan Paine told The Herald she hopes the council hasn’t lost the trust of the business community.
“I think the cost is pretty prohibitive for most restaurants in the area,” said Chef Shubert Ho, who operates several restaurants in downtown Edmonds. “It just makes Edmonds seem like they’re not really that business friendly at the end of the day.”
He said he’s hoping to keep two of his three streateries, where he may be able to recoup the cost in sales.
“Being in the restaurant industry for the last year and a half, two years, everything has been thrown out the door,” he said.
Streateries have allowed Edmonds restaurants and bars to continue service throughout pandemic-related closures, and provide customers a safer way to dine.
“I work in downtown Edmonds, and I work with a bunch of people who have jobs because of the streateries,” said Alex Marek during Tuesday’s council meeting. “… It’s helped me keep a job through the pandemic and the pandemic is far from over.”
In late November, the World Health Organization classified the Omicron variant a Variant of Concern. Health officials on Friday announced the variant was detected in Snohomish County.
The pandemic is not over and the original streateries ordinance, to ensure residents have “safer places to dine for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic,” is still relevant, said Susan McLaughlin, Edmonds development services director, during Thursday’s City Council meeting.
Among the top concerns of those opposing the continuation of streateries was parking.
The 17 existing streateries occupy just over two dozen parking spots in the city, Doherty said. Downtown Edmonds is also accessible by several Community Transit bus routes.
And some residents worried the program left out retailers.
But streateries may have benefited downtown retail. City research revealed a 110% increase in downtown merchant sales revenue this year compared to 2019, before the pandemic.
About a dozen retailers and streatery participants came to a compromise in a Monday letter to elected officials.
“I’ve gotten to know a lot of retailers and we’ve always worked symbiotically towards the same goal,” Ho said, “which is to create a vibrant downtown where people really enjoy coming.”
They suggested a monthly fee from $500 to $750 for the use of two parking stalls and recommended using the funds to lease parking spaces in private lots.
The city of Snohomish also opened up their street sides for outdoor dining just hours after Gov. Jay Inslee implemented a ban on indoor dining services in July 2020.
The city paid for restaurants’ canopy rentals using CARES Act funds in 2020, and when funding ran out the businesses provided their own canopies, which were allowed to remain until fall 2021.
Wendy Poischbeg, economic development director for the city of Snohomish, said they were a success, and the city is considering creating a more formal streatery program.
“I think the proof has been just how vibrant Snohomish has remained throughout the pandemic,” Poischbeg said. “And in how angry” business owners “were when they had to take them down.”
Edmonds restaurants need to pay the $4,000 fee by Dec. 31 to keep their streateries through the end of April. If they choose to not pay the fee, they will need to take down their streateries by Jan. 15.