Damakant Jayshi

Wausau’s Public Health and Safety Committee on Monday approved an extension of temporary outdoor seating areas for restaurants, bars and taverns and temporarily suspended deadlines for submitting applications for special event approval.

City officials say the proposed ordinance “essentially renews a program initiated in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to allow restaurants and taverns to temporarily utilize City sidewalks for outdoor dining and alcohol services.” The program was renewed last year, along with outdoor dining during special events in the city. This extension applies to all City-wide restaurants.

Though COVID-19 cases are waning the impact on businesses continues, said PHS Chair Lisa Rasmussen.

“Obviously, the pandemic is waning but it’s not gone,” Rasmussen said. She added both Main Street and Wausau Events are again interested in holding special events this year.

Rather than making the provision permanent, Rasmussen said “it seems it would be prudent for us to reactive the same temporary privileges we had last summer for them that runs through the end of October, so we could get at least one more season of data to know how this is working and if it’s been a problem.”

Alder Pat Peckam (Dist. 1) said he approves of the extension, especially since it sets a time limit on such outdoor activities.

The City Attorney’s office said that consumption of alcohol on The 400 Block and adjoining sidewalks, as previous regulations specify, is only permitted between 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. and during special events – upon the request of the organizer.

The committee passed the temporary ordinance unanimously. The endorsed measure will now go to the Common Council for consideration. If the City Council approves, the program will remain valid only until 11.59 p.m. on Oct. 31.

Typically, restaurants have more liberty than bars and taverns in using the public spaces adjacent to their licensed premises to serve patrons. The ordinance says the City Council “wishes to provide similar temporary relief to bars and taverns in accordance with the criteria set forth in section 5.90.060 of this chapter, recognizing that unique considerations with respect to the nature of such businesses that focus primarily on the service and consumption of alcohol beverages and the potential impact their outdoor operation may have on neighboring properties requires consideration of separate guidelines and a need for regulation different than that of restaurants.”

Bars or taverns granted a temporary expansion of their licensed premises must comply with additional standards and requirements. The rules include operating the temporary space only from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m., having an enclosure to ensure alcohol is not served to underage residents and not using the outdoor space for recreational activities, including darts or card games, among other provisions.

The rules also specify that three or more substantiated noise complaints “shall be sufficient grounds to revoke the temporary outdoor premises.”

The PHS Committee also approved temporarily suspending application deadlines for holding special events in the city. Now, the applications may be submitted at any time.

(To read the ordinance, click here, and go to page 15.)