Decatur looks to expand outside dining during pandemic

Decatur looks to expand outside dining during pandemic
(Source: WAFF)

DECATUR, Ala. - Decatur officials are looking for ways to allow downtown restaurants to expand outside dining during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our news partners at the Decatur Daily learned some downtown businesses would like the ability to have social distanced seating in parking spaces on city streets and city-owned parking lots so they can serve more customers in a safe manner.

The issue was raised after city officials, in violation of the city code, granted Simp McGhee's the right to block off and use a portion of Bank Street for expanded dining.

The Planning Commission on Tuesday discussed recommending an ordinance change that would allow the expanded outside dining spaces while the state is under a state of emergency because of COVID-19.

Mayor Tab Bowling told the commission he received a request from Simp McGhee's restaurant owner Christy Wheat to block off the 700 block of Bank Street Northeast. He passed the request along to Police Chief Nate Allen and the fire marshal because he thought they had the power to decide when the roads can be blocked off.

Allen granted the request and the restaurant used the street June 6, but the city received several complaints from other business owners. Bowling said they found out later the city ordinance doesn’t allow for this type of temporary approval.

“We know some surrounding business owners are sensitive to allowing their customers park in front of their business,” Bowling said.

The failure to follow the proper procedure by entering into an agreement with the city could have endangered the restaurant’s alcohol license because of the rules of the state Bureau of Alcohol and Beverage Control, Council President Paige Bibbee said.

Wheat said Tuesday she’s just looking for ways to keep her business afloat during the pandemic. A number of other downtown restaurant owners, including Scott Bryan of Bank Street Grill and John Mullican, co-owner of Steakdown on Second Avenue Northeast, spoke out at the meeting in support of a change in the city code to facilitate outside dining.

“We’re getting good local support, but our (traveling) businessman support has just dried up,” Wheat said.

Planning Commission Chairman Kent Lawrence said the commission “wants to help the restaurants any way we can through this (pandemic). We will try to move as quickly as we can.”

The current emergency health order, which expires July 3 if not extended, requires that no more than eight people be seated at a restaurant dining table, and that tables be separated by at least 6 feet.

Copyright 2020 WAFF. All rights reserved.