By Shereen Siewert

Some Wausau tavern owners could soon serve patrons outdoors, if city officials approve a temporary measure to relax current restrictions.

The proposal, approved by the city’s Public Health and Safety Committee this week, will allow local bars and taverns citywide to apply for temporary sidewalk cafe permits to serve alcoholic beverages in outdoor areas during the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery.

Tavern owners with 50 or fewer current demerit points could apply. The criteria for granting temporary permission for outdoor operation requires that taverns have 50 or fewer demerit points on the date of their application. The proposed outdoor area cannot be greater than 50 percent of the indoor licensed premises.

The initial proposal presented called for tighter restrictions and would have restricted expansion to establishments with no more than 25 demerit points assessed within a two-year period prior to the application. The point system operates on a 12-month calendar.

But City Council President Becky McElhaney questioned the necessity for a two-year lookback on demerit points, noting that a downtown business had more than 25 points within the last two years and has outdoor seating for restaurant service.

“I just want to be even-handed,” McElhaney said. “That struck me as too far back, because we have establishments that had a blip. That’s what it was, a blip, and I don’t want them to be hurt by a blip.”

The committee ultimately chose the 50-point benchmark. Three or more substantiated noise complaints would allow city officials to rescind the permit. All outdoor areas would have to close by 10 p.m.

If approved, all provisions will expire automatically on Oct. 31 unless there is further action by the council.

The matter will go to council June 23 for final consideration.