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11-20-2020-outdoor-winter-dining-max-mester

A proposed bill in the Philadelphia City Council would allow streeteries — dining found in parking spaces — to exist permanently in University City, Center City, and business districts in Fishtown, East Passyunk, Old City, and other areas.

Credit: Max Mester

A Philadelphia City Council committee advanced legislation to make outdoor dining a permanent fixture in some areas on Tuesday. 

The proposed bill would allow streeteries — dining found in parking spaces — to exist permanently in University City, Center City, and business districts in Fishtown, East Passyunk, Old City, and other areas, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Another bill was also advanced on Tuesday that would authorize all sidewalk cafes approved during the pandemic to continue operation until at least 2022. The legislation, passed unanimously in the Streets and Services Committee, will be heading to the full City Council for a final vote, which will likely take place by the end of the year.

For restaurants located in areas without approval of permanent outdoor spaces, residents will need to ask their local Councilmember for approval through individual legislation to permit outdoor dining. This is due to the City Council’s long-standing practice of councilmanic prerogative, or the right for individual Council members to have jurisdiction over their district’s land-use initiatives. 

In 2020, sidewalk cafes and streeteries were approved on an emergency basis when indoor dining was limited or restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to an analysis by Councilmember Allan Domb, the number of outdoor dining licenses in Philadelphia grew from 230 to 830 during the pandemic.

Tuesday’s committee meeting also included residents discussing their safety and accessibility concerns due to sidewalk stores and streeteries. The bill includes elements meant to address residents’ concerns, such as limiting the width of streeteries, requiring crash-proof barriers, and prohibiting structures to be too close to bus stops, crosswalks, and stop signs, according to the Inquirer.

During the committee meeting on Tuesday, Council President Darrel Clarke emphasized the importance of protecting the Council's authority to decide on initiatives that impacts their districts, the Inquirer reported.

“It is important for those individuals that know these communities best [...] to have a pinnacle part and involvement in the location and placement of these,” Clarke said during the Tuesday meeting.

Clarke previously opposed an earlier version of the bill which would have removed the Council's authority to approve individual legislation and created a separate approval system for outdoor locations run by Major Jim Kenney's administration.

Many restaurant owners have relied on outdoor dining for financial survival during the pandemic. Some Philadelphia businesses have also never operated outside of the pandemic environment, making the uncertainty of outdoor spaces in certain Philadelphia areas worrisome.

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