This article has been updated.

Saying it needs more assurance that social distancing rules can be met, the Cambridge Village Board on June 23 put off approving a permit for Keystone Grill to hold its annual RibFest.

The board invited Keystone Grill owner Ken Kemler to its July 14 meeting for more discussion.

Kemler was not in the June 23 meeting, which was held by teleconference due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a street use permit application submitted to the village, Kemler said he’d like to block off Mill Street from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 2, outside his restaurant, for the event that includes a barbecue rib-cooking competition and outdoor seating for the public to eat ribs.

Kemler said he would expect a total crowd of about 200 people over the course of the day. It would be the third year that Keystone Grill hosts the event.

Dane County is currently in Phase 2 of its Forward Dane COVID-19 reopening plan.

On June 25, the county announced that restaurants and bars could operate 50% of their capacity, and customers were required to be seated at all times. Seating had to be physically distanced from other parties and parties could only be seated with members of their own household.

However, Dane County has since further restricted bars and restaurant in a new public health order that went into effect Thursday July 2. The newest order limits restaurants to indoor service at 25 percent of their building capacity. Additionally, while bars may still offer take-out food they may no longer offer indoor dining. Both bars and restaurants are still allowed outdoor, socially-distanced seating. 

County officials said in a July 1 release that contract tracing is showing a recent spike of positive COVID-19 tests in Dane County may be tied to visits to bars and restaurants, and to private gatherings. 

Kemler didn’t mention live music in the permit application, but Village Administrator Lisa Moen said that has been part of the event in past years and if happening, would have to be accounted for in crowd counts and distancing procedures.

Moen said she has spoken with Kemler by phone. He would be willing to push the date back to later in August if the village needs more time to deliberate on the permit application, Moen said.

“I told him from a staff viewpoint, that we’re not sure where the county is going to be,” in its reopening phase by early August, Moen said. “This is still a very fluid situation, and we’re just over a month away from August. The county could go forward or backward by then.”

Village Board member Kris Breunig said he has also talked with Kemler since he submitted his permit application, and urged the board to invite the restaurant owner for more discussion on July 14.

Breunig said he came away with the sense that Kemler is willing “to do anything you would need to do to meet the Dane County requirements.”

Breunig also said other downtown businesses could benefit by making a point to be open that evening.

“He has gotten a lot of interest from other downtown businesses, that want to dovetail on this,” Breunig said.

Village Board member Ted Kumbier said as long as attendees wear masks when they are not eating, he is fine with approving the permit.

Village Board member Carla Galler questioned, however, how rules would be enforced.

“Who is going to do that?” she asked, including determining when people have legitimately removed their masks to eat, and taking action “when social distancing decides to break down.”

“Who is responsible for ensuring (social distancing and wearing of masks) continues?” Galler said, adding that by seeking a street use permit Kemler “is asking the village to take up some responsibility for that.”

“You are setting up a situation in which there is no way to ensure that social distancing is going to continue throughout the day,” Galler said. “You are trusting a public, that I have not seen is being very trusting.”

Village Board member Wyatt Rose admitted that he is ”torn,” on allowing the event to proceed, saying he would like more information on how other communities are handling such requests.

Rose said being able to gather on a limited basis could be a morale booster for local residents who have been mostly sheltering at home since March, but said he, too, has concerns about enforcing public health rules.

“How do we have social distancing, and keep people wearing their masks?” he agreed.

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