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City Council considers new standards for outdoor service areas

March 30, 2020 city council meeting

File photo. March 30, 2020 City Council Meeting

At their Monday night meeting, Stillwater City Council members donned their masks to discuss the spread of COVID-19 in the community, and conduct other business.


While a number of people, including the mayor, attended the meeting in person, the majority of council members opted to participate via videoconference.


The council started by discussing an amendment to the zoning laws regarding parking spaces downtown. The proposed amendment would allow restaurants and bars to expand outdoor seating to include stalls built into the parking spaces outside of storefronts.


Although Mayor William Joyce recently signed an emergency declaration which put similar rules in place, City Attorney John Dorman said the city would need to adopt an ordinance if the council wanted to make that a long term solution.


During the public hearing on the proposed ordinance, only  one member of the public was scheduled to speak. Chris Peters, Director of the Downtown Stillwater Association, expressed concern about the regulations surrounding these so-called “street eateries”. 


If they’re too strict, Peters said, then they won’t be practical for business owners, but if they aren’t strict enough, then they might end up poorly maintained.


Following Peters’ comments, the council moved on to discussion of the proposed ordinance.


Councilor John Wedlake said he largely agreed with Peters’ point.


“We want things that look nice,” Wedlake said. “but at the same time, we don’t want design standards that are so onerous on the business owners as to be prohibitive.”


Councilor Amy Dzialowski suggested taking some time to come up with design standards, and using other cities’ design standards as a guide. However, she also emphasized the need to get some standards in place before businesses start investing in these outdoor seating areas, only to have the city put in new design standards.


No action was taken on the ordinance, although Joyce expressed a desire that city staff keep working to develop proposed standards for these outdoor service areas.


The next item on the agenda was a COVID-19 update from the mayor. The mayor said Stillwater public schools were moved to online classes to slow the spread of the virus. He also cited the city-wide mask mandate as an important step in fighting the pandemic.


According to the mayor, hospitals are handling the few serious cases very well, and are ready for an uptick in cases.


Moving forward, Joyce said the city of Stillwater would review the findings of the White House Coronavirus Task Force to inform its actions regarding the pandemic.


The next public meeting of the Stillwater City Council is scheduled for September 14, at 5:30 p.m. Meetings are held in the Council Hearing Room of the municipal building, located at 723 S. Lewis St.