Durham city leaders OK permanent outdoor dining rules to help restaurants amid pandemic

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — The Durham City Council on Monday night unanimously approved an ordinance making outdoor dining permanent.

Some sidewalk seating was allowed in Durham before COVID-19. During the pandemic, the city passed an ordinance expanding outdoor dining to places like parking spots and alleyways.

The pandemic era dining rules were set to expire at the end of October, but instead will now be permanent.

The restaurant Alley 26 has 12 to 16 tables in its alleyway — it was only allowed to have a few tables pre-pandemic.

“People are really shy about eating inside, so having the ability to seat more people outside has been a complete game-changer,” said Alley 26 owner Shannon Healy.

He said the pandemic necessity will now become a part of the permanent business model.

“With or without the pandemic it makes for a more dynamic urban life,” Healy said.

Luna Rotisserie Empanadas recently converted parking spaces into outdoor dining.

“We’ve been able to really expand and keep up with capacity and really offer something unique to our customers,” said manager Darnell Williams.

Businesses need to apply for permits, there are also associated fees.

Healy said success for businesses will depend on how the city writes the code, allowing restaurants enough outdoor space to make the upfront costs of setting up an outdoor area worth it.

Nicole J. Thompson, President/CEO of Downtown Durham Inc., estimates about 10 to 15 downtown restaurants expanded in some capacity under the temporary rules that will now be permanent.

“It just kind of encourages this outdoor living entertainment vibe that is happening in the downtown area now,” Thompson said.

In the council meeting, a representative from the city’s planning department said there are about three restaurants that won’t be allowed to make their temporary structures permanent.

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