Frigid dining in parking lots and designated street “parklets” will continue into winter if diners choose to battle the elements rather than take a chance with COVID-19 indoors.
That looked uncertain Monday as the city sent a letter to restaurant owners demanding they “deconstruct and vacate any and all outdoor dining installations [and] remove associated barriers” by the end of Sunday.
But on Tuesday, Mayor Alan Webber indicated the city would amend the emergency ordinance for outdoor dining and alcohol service set to expire Sunday. He introduced a resolution at Wednesday’s City Council meeting to allow street and parking lot dining and libation to continue.
The updated ordinance won’t go into effect until some time in November, but the Oct. 31 termination date won’t be enforced either, Webber said.
“I think we are going to follow common sense,” Webber said. “If we know we are going to extend it, we’re not going to have people tear things down and have to building them up again the next week.”
That was not what Tomasita’s and Atrisco Cafe & Bar owner George Gundrey was thinking Monday when he got the hand-delivered letter written by Jason Kluck, the city’s interim Land Use Department director.
“It was just crazy,” Gundrey said. “They sent me a letter to tear everything down in six days. They should have done this a month ago.”
Gundrey directly contacted the mayor, who responded with a Tuesday email.
“For the moment, the decision by the State should give us the leeway we need to adjust our Oct. 31 provision,” Webber wrote to Gundrey. “Of course, we can’t do it with a snap of our fingers, but we’ll make it happen.”
Webber said after Kluck sent out the Monday letter, “we had a meeting about it. We huddled.” The outdoor dining provision from June 2020 was tied to the New Mexico Alcohol Beverage Control Division offering temporary outdoor liquor licenses. The state and city temporary licenses and permits first expired Oct. 31, 2020, and were extended to April 30 and again to Oct. 31.
Webber and other jurisdictions contacted Alcohol Beverage Control on Monday, and on Tuesday the agency sent out a letter extending the outdoor liquor program to April 30.
Outdoor dining on parking lots, street parking spaces and sidewalks has gained popularity, and the mayor said he sees long-term potential. But that involves zoning, determining restroom requirements, sidewalk rights of way, removing parking spaces and other matters — plus getting a permanent decision from Alcohol Beverage Control.
“What was originally an emergency measure has turned into a feature that people enjoy and adds fun to the Santa Fe dining scene,” Webber said. “How do we convert an emergency into an opportunity? What I would like to do is sit down with the restaurant association and restaurants and get a plan going to make this an ongoing feature.”
Will there be an appetite for outdoor dining in winter? Plenty of people still insist on eating outside, and Gundrey does not see this winter being any different than last, with diners taking the outdoor option.
“I was shocked at the people eating outdoors in the freezing weather,” Gundrey said.