Metro Louisville

The Louisville Metro Council will soon consider whether to allow businesses that have expanded their outdoor dining options during the COVID-19 pandemic to continue into late next year.

Metro Council approved a temporary ordinance in May 2020, near the start of the pandemic, that allowed bars and restaurants to set up tables and chairs along sidewalks and in parking spaces. Many businesses took advantage of it while state restrictions limited the number of patrons that could be seated indoors. 

City lawmakers extended the measure to December 2021 back in June. Now, a proposed amendment from District 24 Council Member Madonna Flood, a Democrat, would extend it again through the end of next year.

Flood said she’s heard from residents and businesses that people like the outdoor dining experience.

“Even though it was brought about at a lot of restaurants because of COVID, people are actually enjoying it,” she said. “It’s something we need to look at to make our city more attractive.”

While some disability rights activists have expressed concerns about the impact of expanded outdoor dining, the ordinance includes rules that require businesses to maintain accessibility. 

Under the ordinance, any business that wants to create an outdoor dining area on top of parking spaces cannot use handicapped parking for it. Businesses must also leave enough space on sidewalks to stay compliant with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Louisville Metro requires ADA-compliant pathways to be at least four feet wide.

A number of city departments work to ensure outdoor dining meets the minimum standards, including Public Works, Planning and Design and Codes and Regulations.

Monnik Beer Co., a brewery in Louisville’s Germantown neighborhood, was one of the first restaurants to create a patio space in its on-street parking spaces last year. Candice Luijk, Monnik’s events manager, said the city approached them to test out the idea. 

At the time, Luijk said Monnik was only doing to-go orders.

“We were really trying to be safe for our staff and we were really strict about [the restrictions], so it was hard to make it work financially for us as a business,” she said.

Monnik still hasn’t gone back to its normal indoor seating capacity out of concern for guests’ safety. Luijk said the patio, which takes up about 5-6 parking spots, allowed the business to more than double its seating capacity. She said the patio remains the most popular choice for Monnik’s patrons and they’d like to keep it, even after the pandemic.

“I think there are so many ways that businesses will be forever changed because of the pandemic and I think this is going to be one of those ways,” Luijk said. “People are going to be looking for places with more space and more options for outdoor seating.”

Flood said her proposal to extend the flexible outdoor dining ordinance will give the city time to confirm that by engaging the public about whether the changes should be permanent. 

Metro’s Department of Planning and Design plans to hold public meetings in the coming months to get feedback on what has worked and what hasn’t.

Emily Liu, who heads the department, said Louisville’s expanded outdoor dining during the pandemic has activated spaces that otherwise may get little use.

“Especially in urban areas, it makes the street more vibrant,” she said. “You walk by and people are dining outside. It just makes the street and the area more attractive.”

But Liu said the department wants to be cautious about making a permanent change to the city’s Land Development Code, an extensive 800-page document that defines how land in Louisville can be used. She said they’ll have to look at what zoning districts outdoor dining should be allowed in, where to permit outdoor alcohol consumption and the hours of operation for outdoor spaces.

“We want to hear not just from the restaurant owner but also the citizens, especially those that may be in close proximity to these restaurants to see if any restrictions need to be in place to protect them,” she said.

Flood filed the proposed amendment at the end of September. It’s expected to be assigned to the Planning and Zoning Committee this week and it could get a committee hearing as soon as Oct. 19.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL.