Palatine nixes outdoor street dining, at least for now
Palatine will not allow downtown bars and restaurants to set up outdoor dining on public streets this year but will continue allowing it on public sidewalks.
The village council made the decision Tuesday night, concurring with a recommendation made by Village Manager Reid Ottesen and his staff. If the COVID-19 pandemic takes another turn for the worse, the village will be quick to revisit the issue and open up street dining to help local businesses, village officials said.
Meanwhile, the village will begin studying ways to make street dining a downtown fixture in future years, such as with streetscape modifications for safety.
Palatine began allowing establishments to set up dining tables on public streets in 2020 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions imposed by the state on indoor dining.
Three establishments took advantage of street dining in 2020: JL's Pizza and Sports Bar, Schnell's Brauhaus, and TJ O'Brien's Bar & Grill.
In 2021, the village council decided to allow street dining for the same three establishments.
"This summer is going to be a kind of back-to-normal situation," Councilman Kollin Kozlowski said.
Ottesen said he's "more than happy" to work with local bar and restaurant owners to look at ways to expand their sidewalk dining. For example, he said, he could facilitate discussions with neighboring businesses that might allow use of their portion of sidewalk at night or on weekends.
Councilman Brad Helms, whose District 6 includes downtown Palatine, was absent from the meeting Monday.
Another councilman reported that Helms had hoped the village would allow street dining for one more season because the COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet. Helms also reportedly ventured the idea of asking local dining establishments about "an acceptable fee" to offset any outdoor street dining costs for the village.
On Feb. 1, Arlington Heights started tacking a 0.75% tax on bills at downtown restaurants to help fund the village's setup and maintenance costs for outdoor street dining.
Palatine has 19 bars and restaurants downtown, and 12 of those historically have obtained licenses to have outdoor tables on public sidewalks, Ottesen said.
By and large, the village's street dining program was a success in the last two years, Ottesen said. However, it was a challenge for village staff members to ensure safety for dining on streets that are often sloped for drainage, he said.
"We dodged a bullet with not having any incidents, quite frankly," Ottesen said.
Also, street dining elicited 15 to 20 complaints last year from business owners who didn't like losing parking spots -- a total 12 to 13 spots, according to Councilman Greg Solberg -- and pedestrians who didn't feel comfortable walking by, Ottesen said.
Councilman Tim Millar said it's important to keep all property owners happy, including those whose tenants are not eateries.
The village plans take a comprehensive approach to study future outdoor dining options downtown, both north and south of the Metra tracks. That includes examining how to expand parking downtown -- for example, businesses with private parking lots might allow use of those spaces at night and on weekends -- and studying whether to possibly use tax-increment financing funds for streetscape projects.
"I am all in favor at looking at it holistically," Councilman Doug Myslinski said.