Collier to issue temporary permits for some restaurants to expand outdoor seating
As Florida begins to ease coronavirus restrictions, some Collier County restaurants will soon be able to seat more patrons outdoors.
Since Monday, following an executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis, restaurants have been allowed to reopen at 25% capacity for indoor seating. Outdoor seating is permitted as long as tables can be placed at least six feet apart.
Now, the county, starting this week, will allow certain restaurants to apply for a temporary use permit to expand the areas available to offer outdoor seating.
The move comes after county staff had been asked "to evaluate requests by local restaurants to temporarily establish and/or expand outdoor seating capacity in their establishments," according to letters sent by County Manager Leo Ochs to the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association on Tuesday.
"Staff has determined that some restaurants may be able to do so with the issuance of a temporary use permit," Ochs wrote.
The permits for additional temporary outdoor seating will be restricted to restaurants where the "current zoning specifically allows for such activity and shall be related to the principal commercial activities in operation" on the property, according to the letters.
For a few restaurants the underlying zoning won't allow the temporary use permits. That may be the case for restaurants in certain commercial centers and those subject to the rules and restrictions of a planned unit development, Ochs said.
County commissioners are expected on Tuesday to discuss ways to allow those restaurants to also apply for more outdoor seating through the temporary use permit process.
The permits would allow restaurants to place temporary structures, equipment and merchandise on up to 25% of their parking lots "unless equivalent additional off-site parking is provided," according to the letters.
Safe ingress and egress have to be provided to the site, including emergency access at all times.
If the expanded dining space is in the parking area a temporary physical barrier has to separate it from the rest of the parking lot.
"We're trying to do this in a way that is safe and complies with our ordinances," said Commission Chairman Burt Saunders.
Restaurants that don't own their parking space have to provide a letter from the property owner or property manager granting permission to use the area for more outdoor seating.
The permits won't be issued to "occupy unimproved properties or areas identified as open space, preserve, or landscape buffers," according to the letters.
All outdoor dining areas must be kept clean of litter and adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for distance separation, according to the permit application.
The permits remain in effect until the state allows restaurants to operate at full capacity, unless modified before then by the county manager or commissioners.
The permit review process could be done within 24 to 48 hours, Ochs said.
"We've worked a streamline process," he said. "We've waived the fee."
Commissioner Penny Taylor floated the idea last week to allow restaurants more space for patrons.
She had asked her fellow commissioners to convene a special meeting to consider easing parking restrictions and allow businesses to set up tables under tents in parking lots.
No special meeting was called, but Taylor said Tuesday she was relieved to see the temporary use permit efforts move forward.
"Let's get it going. That's all I care about," she said. "Let's give as much support as we can to these restaurants."
To Danny Gonzalez, owner of Lozano's Mexican Restaurant in Immokalee and president of the Immokalee Chamber of Commerce, the move to allow for more outdoor seating is a good idea and a step in the right direction.
"It'll be good for us to support us until we go to Phase 2," he said, referring to the state's phased plan to reopen the economy.
Gonzalez plans to put up a tent that will be enough for another 30 patrons, following social distancing guidelines, and he said Kountry Kitchen, not far from Lozano's, will also apply for a permit.
"They own a big parking lot," he said.
Both restaurants sit along New Market Road where Gonzalez said there will be enough room for additional outdoor seating. He worries about the smaller mom and pop restaurants in tight plazas on Main Street in Immokalee.
"The problem is on Main Street there is just not enough parking," he said.
Still, Gonzalez is grateful for measures he said will help restaurants not just in Immokalee, but everywhere in Collier.
"It's been a real struggle...," he said. "I hope things get a little bit better."
Businesses interested in applying for a temporary use permit can find a link to the application at https://www.colliercountyfl.gov/Home/ShowDocument?id=93180.
Once filled out, the application should be sent via email to email@example.com.
Although the Growth Management Department Office at 2800 North Horseshoe Drive in Naples, and the Immokalee Permitting Office at 310 Alachua Street in Immokalee are both currently closed to walk-in business, drop boxes and pick-up boxes are available outside for those who are not able to apply online.