Lake County towns helping kick-start outdoor dining

Restaurants hungry for business hope to serve heapin' helpings Friday as COVID-19 restrictions ease and outdoor dining - with limitations - is permitted for the first time since mid-March.

Communities starved for sales tax revenue also hope for big turnouts. Officials in Libertyville, Vernon Hills and Mundelein, for example, have enacted similar temporary measures intended to get eating and drinking establishments up and running again.

The three towns form a dining hub in south central Lake County, with an estimated 200 or more restaurants.

Waiving fees, allowing tents, suspending parking requirements and helping set up public areas are among the ways communities are trying to prime the pump for Phase 3 of Restore Illinois, which begins Friday.

Establishments with enough outdoor space to meet state guidelines can open without special permission. Those that don't or need more can apply for local review, which communities have said will be simple and quick.

"It's a one-page application. Submit a hand-drawn map of what you're planning, and within 24 hours we'll do a quick turnaround and approval," said Mark Fleischhauer, Vernon Hills' village manager.

In Libertyville, the village staff has leeway to deal with permit requests. There had been 14 permit applications as of Thursday morning.

"Every restaurant is going to be different. We're going to need some flexibility," Mayor Terry Weppler said Tuesday before the village board agreed to waive requirements regarding parking and portable sidewalk signs.

And in Mundelein, Mayor Steve Lentz by executive order allowed temporary outdoor seating in public areas, defined as an area by a restaurant, tavern/bar, winery or brewery on the same property or on the public right of way adjacent or close to the business.

The area will have tables and chairs and be delineated with temporary barriers. The areas will increase capacity, ensure proper physical distancing requirements and "hopefully, give businesses the boost they need right now," Lentz said.

Duke Ross, owner of Main Street Social on Milwaukee Avenue in downtown Libertyville, plans to erect a 30-foot by 30-foot tent in the parking lot behind his restaurant that will hold 12 to 14 tables. Guests will be asked to limit their stay to 90 minutes.

Ross has been working with Chrissoulas restaurant next door, which also was considering using a large tent.

"I think a lot of restaurants will be doing that," Ross said. "We're trying to work together with everything to make this as easy as possible."

Fleischhauer said restaurants in the Mellody Farm center that have uncovered patios will be allowed to erect tents. And in the Hawthorn Hills Square strip center, restaurants have been encouraged to work with neighbors on a joint set up, he added.

Scott Adams, president/CEO of the GLMV (Green Oaks, Libertyville, Mundelein, Vernon Hills) Chamber of Commerce said the measures are a step in the right direction.

"They obviously have to be safety-minded, but all the restaurants I've spoken with are optimistic and hope that Phase 4 is not far behind," he said.

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Pritzker says Illinois is a go for Phase 3 Friday, starts thinking about Phase 4 in late June

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