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Amid pandemic woes, city of Monona will extend leniency on outdoor patio seating for local restaurants

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Outdoor seating, Monona Buck & Honeys

Patrons gather at Buck & Honey’s outdoor patio in Monona.

Monona restaurants will have more leniency to offer outdoor patio seating this summer after a June 7 vote from the city council.

The council voted in favor Monday night of an ordinance that allows the city to issue temporary patio permits to local bars and eateries.

The ordinance, which will expire on Nov. 15, 2021, is an extension of prior city ordinance 10-20-735, an order put into place last June that allowed bars and restaurants in Monona to expand their outdoor seating capacity by up to 40 seats.

It also expedited the approval process for the necessary permits that bars and restaurants must obtain in order to legally operate an outdoor patio in the city.

That order was initially set to end in late summer 2020, but was extended last fall to continue aid to the local food industry as it grappled with the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Upon the ordinance’s renewal last fall, it was set to expire when Public Health Madison & Dane County rescinded its emergency orders, which occurred last week on June 2.

All city alders voted unanimously in favor of the extension.

“I think this is a good idea to continue, and I think that it may offer an opportunity for restaurants to be able to see what kind of options they may have for outdoor dining that they may have not considered before,” said Alder Jennifer Kuhr. “Knowing now that people are getting more back to normal, but may choose to dine outside as opposed to inside when the weather is decent.”

Devin Renner, executive director of the Monona Eastside Business Alliance, said he’s heard from multiple area restaurant owners who are optimistic now that the public health orders have been lifted, but are staying realistically cautious.

“For the majority of restaurant owners that I’ve talked to throughout the community, the biggest challenges that they’re facing right now are staffing and consumer confidence,” said Renner. “There’s still that degree of apprehension of, we’re in the clear right now, but what might happen next month, so anything that can help assuage some of those concerns I think would certainly go towards helping the area businesses continue on their recovery.”

Craig Hayes of Tully’s II Food and Spirits in Monona echoed that sentiment, saying that although the mask mandate and social distancing requirements have been lifted, some customers still remain wary of dining indoors.

“This pandemic has caused us a big hardship, and this outdoor seating is one way of recouping some of our financial losses,” Hayes wrote in a letter to the city. “Even though the mandated mask has been lifted, the public is still uncomfortable with seating inside when they have the option to sit outside. We believe and have seen outdoor seating as the new normal, and a way for people to continue to social distance.”

Some council members did raise concerns about parking issues, pointing out that with mandates lifted and more people venturing out in cars, it might prove difficult to fit tight parking and outdoor patios in the same space.

City officials say they’ll be monitoring the parking situation throughout the summer and reevaluating if necessary.

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