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Austin Restaurants Can Temporarily Take Over Public Spaces for Outdoor Dining With New Permit Program

With the City of Austin’s new pilot permitting program Shop the Block, city restaurants and bars can create temporary sidewalk patios, turn parking lots into alfresco spaces, and even close off streets for 48-hour dining areas

Uncle Nicky’s patio
Uncle Nicky’s patio
Courtney Pierce/EATX
Nadia Chaudhury is the editor of Eater Austin covering food and pop culture, as well as a photographer, writer, and frequent panel moderator and podcast guest.

Soon, Austin restaurants, bars, and other businesses will be able to turn parking lots and sidewalks into additional outdoor dining spaces, through a new expedited pilot permit program — part of a new ordinance from the city in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. This way, restaurants can increase their overall seating capacities while still being able to maintain social distancing requirements (such as spacing tables six feet apart), and serve more customers at the same time.

Called Shop the Block program, the new permitting would allow businesses to create additional sidewalk patios; take over public parking spaces, streets, alleys, or travel lanes; or convert private parking lots into additional spaces.

There are two available permits: the first-time-ever 30-day permit for converting public and private parking lots and sidewalks into additional business spaces (these have to be renewed every month through the end of the program); and then an up-to-48-hour street closure permit to allow for additional spaces (there’s expedited approval and businesses would have to apply for each desired time).

All permit applications require approvals from neighboring businesses, provide conditions for general safety regulations (i.e. the proposed space can’t be located in front of a fire hydrant, the business must erect a barricade protecting the area from traffic if it’s in the street), have plans for getting rid of garbage, and remain ADA compliant. Restaurants and bars with pre-existing outdoor spaces are still encouraged to apply for the permit, since the program is meant to increase business.

This temporary permitting program was approved by the Austin City Council last week. It begins on Monday, June 15, and runs through Tuesday, December 15, at which point the city council will meet again for potential renewal.

The program was sponsored by council members Leslie Pool, Natasha Harper-Madison, Ann Kitchen, Sabino Renteria, and Kathie Tovo. The permitting process is being overseen by the Austin Center for Events’s Special Events Ordinance.

Currently, Texas restaurants and bars can operate at 50 percent indoor capacities. The limit expands to 75 percent for restaurants on Friday, June 12. At this time there are no capacity limits for outdoor spaces, but social distancing measures are still required for all.

Recently, Dallas passed a similar permitting program, allowing restaurants to create temporary parklets to add additional dining space.