Charleston officials are considering making larger sidewalk cafe spaces permanent | Credit: Vladyslav Tobolenko on Unsplash

Charleston City Council Tuesday night unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance that would permanently ease some restrictions on outdoor dining in the city. The measure was proposed after temporary changes were put in place to help local restaurants weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

The temporary ordinance had been extended multiple times in 60-day increments before being extended once more through January 2022.

The proposed changes would shrink the “clear pedestrian path” space required for outdoor cafes, dependent on whether on-street parking is present directly adjacent to the sidewalk cafe space. Without a buffer from traffic provided by on-street parking, spaces could be tighter.

After some discussion, Councilman Mike Seekings asked city staff to compile a list of businesses that may be adversely affected by the the ordinance’s second reading. Some changes may tighten spaces previously allowed to create outdoor dining space.

Local business owners have seen positive impacts from outdoor dining, especially early during the pandemic, when indoor dining was limited and carried a greater risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Babas is one of the Charleston cafes that expanded into on-street parking spaces during the pandemic | Credit: Ruta Smith file photo

“This just made such a big difference for us as a team because we could still provide warm hospitality,” Babas on Cannon co-owner Edward Crouse told the City Paper in May — though it’s unclear how Babas’ overflow space into adjacent on-street parking spaces would be affected. “The guests can feel like we care, and even though we couldn’t take care of them the same way we could have before, it’s obvious we love what we do and are doing what we can to make this experience cool and fun and beautiful.”

The planning commission will consider the proposal at 5 p.m. Wednesday. If approved, the measure will be given a second reading at the next Charleston City Council meeting.

The public can register and access the meeting over Zoom. Alternatively, the meeting can be accessed over the phone at (301) 715-8592 with the meeting ID: 853 0771 7064.

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