The city will stop enforcing most outdoor seating and retail sales regulations next week for Jacksonville restaurants, stores and bars to increase traffic for businesses struggling from government COVID-19 restrictions.
Mayor Lenny Curry said during a May 7 news conference that he’s been working with District 11 City Council member Danny Becton on ways to relax code requirements until they can be repealed.
“That will mean more outdoor space for these business establishments to serve their customers,” Curry said. “I believe this is a prudent step and the right thing to do, but I want to remind our citizens to be cautious in the practice of social distancing. Folks should not be gathering in large groups, parties or activities yet.”
Some Duval County restaurants and retail outlets reopened this week after state restrictions to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus were relaxed May 4.
Curry said businesses appear to be abiding by 25% indoor capacity limits required by the state, but city leaders are working to find “a safe way” for restaurants and retail owners to increase sales and revenue.
“We’re working through the specifics,” Curry said. “(We’re) learning all the traps and making sure we open up outdoor space for restaurants and retailers so they can do it in a way where it won’t affect their businesses in a negative way, which would include their liability insurance.”
The mayor said some restaurant seating could be allowed in parking lots or in front of establishments.
Resolution urges changes
Although the mayor did not detail May 7 what would be allowed under a relaxed code, Becton filed Resolution 2020-0254 on May 6 as an emergency with some recommendations.
Council resolutions are not binding, but Becton’s bill urges Curry to suspend enforcement of outdoor seating codes with a few exceptions.
All outdoor retail sale and restaurant seating space should not block sidewalks or right-of-ways, use amplified music or sounds adjacent to the building, under the resolution.
The legislation suggests City Hall officials limit areas for outdoor alcohol sales to no greater than the inside alcohol license sales area.
It also would require businesses surround outdoor seating and sales areas with temporary barriers at least 3½ feet high.
Becton’s resolution urges code enforcement to be suspended as long at the local or state COVID-19 states of emergency are in place, whichever is longer.
Curry said he will announce a more specific plan some time next week.
Becton filed the bill with Council President Scott Wilson and Council members Rory Diamond, Ron Salem, Aaron Bowman, Terrance Freeman and Randy DeFoor.
Becton said May 7 that grant programs, like a $9 million small business rent/mortgage/utility stimulus program proposed this week by Council member LeAnna Cumber, are “good temporary solutions” to help businesses with past due expenses.
“But what our small business community really needs going forward most is customers and sales to get their employees back to work,” Becton said in a text message. “Thinking outside the box, on how we might temporarily relax some regulations to help stay within guidelines of maximum capacities and social distancing to increase customer counts.”
If the full Council agrees the bill should be passed as an emergency, it will be put to an in-and-out vote May 12.
Curry said May 7 that Duval County’s percentage of positive COVID-19 tests continues to decline, a statistic he frequently cites as a sign that officials are making the right decisions to reopen Jacksonville’s economy.
He announced his intent to expand outdoor restaurants and retail sales while urging Duval County residents to continue to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention social distancing and COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Curry encouraged people to wear masks while out in public spaces like grocery stores.
As of May 7, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine online COVID-19 dashboard shows Duval County with 1,077 confirmed coronavirus cases and 26 deaths since the Florida Department of Health began tracking the data in February.
“People are anxious and eager to get this virus behind us and back to normalcy. Believe me, I’m with you. I want to get back to normal as well. But we must move forward responsibly,” Curry said. “That means being safe. That means being cautious. We can’t take one step forward only to be forced to go two back.”