Council hears restaurant owner's request for on-street dining
December 24, 2020
On Monday, the Cathlamet Town Council scheduled a special meeting for next Tuesday to discuss the feasibility of establishing outdoor dining on Main Street. Restaurant owners urged the council to consider the idea as a means of supporting struggling businesses amidst covid-19 restrictions.
Also, Council Member David Olson announced the conditional award of $109,410 grant funding from the Washington State Department of Commerce Clean Energy Fund to install an electric vehicle charging station in the Butler lot. More information on the charging station will be provided in next week’s edition.
The council approved a request for quotes for architectural service for anticipated projects in 2021; the council failed to pass the final reading of an ordinance to update park rules; they passed motions to adopt the town’s 2021 budget as well as establish a hearing examiner process to handle situations otherwise addressed by a land use planning commission.
Stephanie Vossen, owner of The Spar restaurant, approached the council with a request to establish outdoor dining on Main Street directly in front of her establishment. Vossen hoped to find an immediate solution to the economic struggle of being restricted from indoor dining. Members of the council including Town Attorney Fred Johnson brought to light the red tape around achieving even short term solutions involving Main Street, a state highway.
Vossen proposed an outdoor enclosure that would stretch the length of 83 Main St. and cover coinciding parking spots. Council Member Olson had forwarded Vossen’s plans to Wahkiakum County Health and Human Services Director Chris Bischoff who felt they weren’t detailed enough but “would be acceptable” pending inspections and additional approvals.
In addition to passing health inspections and county and town approval, permission from the state would be required for right-of-way access on the state highway. According to Washington State’s website, special events on highways require 90 days lead time for state approval. Vossen hopes to set up outdoor seating for longer than a few days, not permanently, in order to follow the governor’s guidelines and operate a viable business.
“We’ve been shut down since November 16th,” Vossen said. “We had to make a lot of changes for our business to continue, but we will most likely not be able to pay our bills, utilities, and staff on takeout only.”
Council members didn’t have outright objections to the idea of establishing a long term outdoor solution for restaurants; however many concerns still arose.
Johnson pushed the council to dig into the science behind contact tracing to determine how many covid-19 cases originated from indoor restaurants. Johnson also felt that the county’s backtracking from phase 3 of reopening to phase 2 was an indicator of potential hurdles.
“We have thousands of people dying, hundreds of thousands of people getting sick, new waves of the virus surfacing,” Council Member Bill Wainwright added. “And here we are trying to beat the system. If we can help business survive safely, that’s great, but I am going to be dead set against anything not endorsed by the state.”
Council Member Laurel Waller wanted to hear from residents about the proposed outdoor dining solution especially because of the effects it would have on parking downtown. The council set a special meeting for Tuesday, 6 p.m., via Zoom to discuss solutions for helping downtown restaurants including the possibility of outdoor dining in right-of-way spaces.