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Boulder begins streamlined restaurant reopening application process, emphasizing outdoor expansion amid coronavirus


Boulder city officials on Tuesday announced guidelines to let some restaurants reopen with temporary outdoor seating areas on public and private property under an initiative called the Boulder Business Recovery Temporary Outdoor Expansion Program.

The program, which the city says is an effort to support local restaurants by simplifying the process of reopening from the coronavirus shutdown, will streamline the permitting process for eateries to expand outdoor seating areas. Boulder County Public Health, Boulder Business Response and Recovery Alliance partners and local representatives of the Colorado Restaurant Association contributed to developing the program, which is intended to support health and safety while reopening dine-in service under the state’s new restaurant guidelines, according to a city news release.

Under the guidelines announced over Memorial Day Weekend by Gov. Jared Polis, indoor dining will be allowed starting Wednesday, but the eateries’ occupancy will be capped at 50% seating capacity, or a maximum of 50 people, whichever is fewer.

The city in partnership with the Boulder Chamber hosted a webinar about the process of applying for the program. A recording of that webinar will be posted on the city’s COVID-19 Business Resources page at

Local leaders are still waiting for clarity from the state on whether the reduced capacities can grow from the standard 50% or 50 people for restaurants that set up serving space outside, they said in the webinar.

City Council has pushed to cut red tape involved in reopening by waiving minimum parking requirements and allowing for expanded outdoor seating, including into the public right of way, which may lead to street closures, to facilitate outdoor dining. The initiative likely will start west of the Pearl Street Mall and on the University Hill Event Street.

Council at tonight’s meeting also will discuss expedited processing of applications, fully waived application fees and ensuring curbside pickup and delivery meal transactions remain smooth, including by likely designating waiting places for vehicles.

“These first phase recovery actions are directly responsive to the needs expressed by the restaurant industry and their workers, a valued segment of Boulder’s business community,” Mary Ann Weideman, interim director of the city’s Planning & Development Services Department, stated in the release. “It also reflects the importance of our continued focus on community health and safety during the evolving pandemic.”

Under the recovery effort, restaurants may seek to temporarily expand application of their alcohol licensure and extend seating areas into private property or the public right of way from the date of permit approval until Sept. 30, 2020.

Officials still are determining which streets will be closed to allow temporary outdoor dining, the release said. Restaurants, particularly those planning to gain licensing for outdoor liquor service, that are not immediately adjacent to a street that is closed cannot apply for an outdoor space away from their physical locations, local leaders said in the webinar. Eateries next door to each other are also prohibited from using a shared liquor licensing for their respective spaces; both licensees would need to apply for the modified permit.

Restaurants adjacent to other businesses, though, can expand their outdoor service to the fronts of its neighbors if they agree, but the service area has to remain contiguous, leaders of the webinar suggested.

“For liquor licensing, the further you get away from the brick and mortar restaurant, the more difficult it is to show that you have control of that satellite area,” Boulder Licensing Manager Mishawn Cook said in the webinar.

A dine-in-by-reservation-only policy is not required for restaurants reopening, but it is recommended, Lane Drager, a Boulder County Public Health official, said in the webinar. Having a log of who came in for a meal could help with contact tracing of coronavirus cases, should that become necessary, Drager added.

“I think it is a best practice,” Drager said of the reservation-only idea. “Otherwise I think you’re really going to struggle maintaining large crowds waiting to try and get in to your facility, especially as things expand out into the sidewalks and the streets. … I think it helps you manage a lot of things, and it helps us, as well.”

Bars without their own kitchens are to remain closed per the state order, but local leaders are going to push for information on whether it might be possible for bars adjacent to restaurants to begin to apply for outdoor seating permits for when they are able to reopen, and probe whether striking liquor and dining service partnerships, including with food trucks, makes a limited reopening possible on a quicker time frame. It is unknown when further guidance could come forward, Drager said.

For more information, criteria and the program application, visit For the latest city response to COVID-19, including business resources, visit

“To the restaurants, we are with you,” Boulder Chamber CEO John Tayer said in the webinar. “We want you open, we want you serving our community and we want you to thrive. … This is the start of the process, we look forward to working with you and let’s get going.”