Lenient rules put in place to help Chandler businesses survive the pandemic are expected to be phased out by the city in the coming months.
The city’s code enforcers had relaxed its rules on signage, liquor licenses and outdoor dining areas to help local bars and restaurants work around the pandemic’s restrictions like reduced occupancy and social distancing.
But city officials believe now is the time to begin enforcing some of those old rules and have businesses return to their pre-pandemic operations.
One of the city’s most popular accommodations has been allowing restaurants to turn parking lots into outdoor dining areas. Since the state had been limiting the number of diners that could be served indoors, many restaurants benefited from being able to use some additional space to serve customers.
Now that the state has begun to ease its pandemic-related protocols, Chandler is expected to discontinue this “street-side dining” by July, although it could potentially return the initiative as a seasonal program.
“Staff will be working to bring a proposal back to the City Council in the future for discussion regarding the use of an outdoor patio program in downtown on a seasonal basis,” said city spokesman Matthew Burdick.
Some restaurant owners in the downtown area had been hoping the city would permanently extend its outdoor dining regulations.
Chris Purcell, chief operating officer of Pedal Haus Brewery, noted how up to 17 percent of the restaurant’s sales in any given week have come from guests sitting in street-side patios.
“We have found that ever since Governor Doug Ducey lifted the social distancing executive order, many of our guests still prefer to remain socially distant and dine outdoors,” Purcell wrote the city.
Gavin Jacobs, co-owner of Hidden House, has found the outdoor dining to be a valuable amenity for customers worried about staying safe while out in public.
“The outdoor street dining program has been absolutely pivotal in creating healthy and safe dining spaces for our community and a new opportunity for our business to sustain itself,” Jacobs said.
But the outdoor dining has not been favored by everyone, since some see the city’s lenient rules as being unfair to some businesses.
Desert Viking, a real estate firm that has refurbished many of Chandler’s downtown buildings, highlighted how restaurants positioned along Arizona Avenue cannot participate in street-side dining.
Niels Kreipke, owner of Desert Viking, said there are several restaurants around downtown that have already invested thousands of dollars in building permanent patio spaces and must now compete with nearby businesses utilizing the street-side patios.
“These temporary patios take away customers and overall business from those businesses that had invested in the very expensive permanent patios,” Kreipke explained.
Kreipke said he supports extending street-side dining for a couple months, but doesn’t believe the program is warranted now that restaurants can return to serving at their full capacity.
“Additional time beyond the short extension has mixed support at best and, frankly, creates unfair advantages to those businesses who have gained extra seating and business with minimal to no cost to their businesses,” Kreipke added.
Another regulation Chandler is planning to phase out soon has allowed local businesses to put up signs and advertisements indefinitely without applying for a permit.
Last March, City Council passed a resolution that eliminated some of the rules businesses must follow for posting outdoor signs.
The goal was to make it easier for business owners to promote new services during the pandemic, such as curbside pickup or home delivery.
The city plans to reinstate its old rules by October and will attempt to educate businesses about the changes before enforcing the sign codes.
Chandler intends to continue allowing its city manager to greenlight applications for liquor license extensions, which was a change made at the start of the pandemic.
In an attempt to assist bars and restaurants, the city had streamlined its application process for businesses wanting to expand the areas where their staff serve alcohol.
The city plans to start charging fees again for extension requests, but will continue letting its city manager authorize applications in order to speed up the process.