Council backs letting restaurants, retail outlets do more business outdoors

Mayor Curry says he will suspend enforcement of parts of the city code.

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The Jacksonville City Council put its support behind suspending enforcement of most outdoor seating and retail sales regulations to increase sales traffic for Jacksonville businesses facing government COVID-19 limitations

Council voted 19-0 on May 12 to approve Resolution 2020-0254, introduced by District 11 Council member Danny Becton, that urges relaxed restrictions on outdoor dining and food and alcohol service.

Mayor Lenny Curry announced May 7 he was working with Becton on ways to increase sales for local businesses working under 25% indoor capacity restriction under the state’s phase one reopening from COVID-19.

Curry addressed the Council via the Zoom videoconferencing platform May 12 before the vote. 

“We will suspend enforcement of those parts of the code so restaurants can get back to business and do it in a safe way and take care of their customers,” Curry said.

The Council and Curry’s actions will allow businesses to set up seating and service areas in parking lots and in front of their buildings.

Becton’s bill does set a few parameters that the Curry administration will follow.

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.

The bill asks businesses to 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 as a local or state COVID-19 state of emergency is in place.

For alcohol sales, the bill requests businesses limit areas for outdoor sales to no greater than the inside alcohol license sales area.

Council approved the bill as an in-and-out emergency. After the vote, Becton said he hopes relaxing the regulations will help bring back small business revenue lost during the COVID-19 shutdown.

“Our small business owners need every advantage they can in order to squeak out sales and revenue out of the 25% limitation that they’re underneath right now,” Becton said. “It is my hope that we’ll get our county and our businesses open for business fully as soon as possible and allow our business owners to do the right thing.” 

Council member Matt Carlucci said this could be “a time to experiment” and see if outdoor restaurant seating and sales not previously allowed in some areas of Jacksonville could work on a permanent basis.

Council Vice President Tommy Hazouri said he supported the bill because it’s an action the city can take quickly without dipping into the general fund.

“This is one of the few things that we can do without spending any money on stimulus, “Hazouri said. “This is something we can do to free up some of our ordinances to help get business started.”