After much discussion, New Braunfels City Council on Monday approved a measure that will temporarily allow restaurants to expand indoor dining into outdoor parking areas.
The emergency ordinance, which will be reviewed before the end of the year, is designed to bolster economic conditions still reeling from COVID-19 pandemic. It will allow restaurants to convert up to 40% of off-street parking spaces into temporary dining and food operations.
Christopher Looney, the city’s planning and development services director, reviewed the measure, which goes into effect immediately and extends until lifted by council.
“One area we sought to help (economically affected businesses) is in the temporary easing of restaurant minimum parking requirements,” he said, indicating the governor’s COVID-19 orders limit most restaurants to 50% of normal seating capacity, leaving a good deal of their outdoor parking areas going unused.
“We’re recommending they can use up to 40% of those spaces for adding or expanding existing outdoor dining,” Looney said. “Perhaps it will increase the numbers of customers those restaurants will attract and serve.”
Looney said the city is developing a streamlined permitting process for the measure, which will not burden owners with additional costs. However, District 2 Council Member and Mayor Pro Tem Justin Meadows worried that, as written, it could send the wrong message to downtown business owners — especially paying city fees, waived during COVID-19 — for usage areas.
“I’m in full support of helping people when we can but also in full support to help people help themselves,” Meadows said. “Downtown businesses have also invested in their property and purchased parking and
they pay taxes for that. COVID-19 had an effect on everybody — so if we approve this in its current form, are we tilting the tables?
“It’s a good thing to help business owners but they are getting to expand that for free, with the guy that owns private parking having to pay a tax to do that. When those without large parking areas start to expand for seating and food trucks, where will that parking go?”
Meadows said it could also send patrons from one venue into established parking lots operated by others, exacerbating a problem for many downtown venues, many of which remain closed several days during the week.
“I’m not against outside seating which is a great idea,” he said. “But how can we level the playing field to make it fair for all concerned?”
District 4 Council Member Matthew Hoyt suggested a Dec. 31 temporary deadline, which Meadows favored. However, Council Members Shane Hines (District 1), Harry Bowers (District 3) and James Blakey (District 6) suggested by doing so, the measure might also have to continuously changed depending on revised governor’s orders and other developments.
“Let’s not get caught up in the weeds with this,” Blakey said. “Let’s get traffic downtown, which is going to take a while on its own. There are many moving parts with all of this.”
District 5 Council Member Jason Hurta agreed.
“This is something that should be acted on tonight,” he said. “This is good news; let’s pass this and review it toward the end of the year.”
Meadows said his intent was to spark a conversation, not to derail the measure.
“I want the public to know that I’m not saying I don’t want to help people,” Meadows said before council unanimously approved the measure in its original form, 7-0.
Council approves budget, tax rate
Council members on Monday unanimously approved final readings of ordinances that will set the city’s 2020-21 fiscal year budget at $281.6 million and 2020 combined tax rate at 48.3194 cents per $100 assessed property valuation.
The combined rate is about a half-cent less than the current tax rate of 48.822 cents. The 2020 no-new-revenue tax rate, or effective tax rate, is 44.702 cents, and the voter approval tax rate, or rollback rate, is 48.3194 cents.
The new budget does not include compensation increases for employees or fund additional positions outside of the solid waste department. The city’s 2021 budget and plan of municipal services will go into effect when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
For more, visit www.nbtexas.org.