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The makeshift al fresco dining areas occupying about 30 parking spots throughout Lauderdale-by-the-Sea will be extended by at least six months.
Commissioners approved the extension during a special meeting, allowing the extra tables and chairs that run parallel along East Commercial Boulevard, A1A and El Mar Drive to stay beyond an October deadline, just as snowbird season begins.
The outdoor dining was designed to help restaurants deal with limited indoor capacity when the pandemic hit. The innovation was such a hit with restaurants and diners, the city is considering making outdoor seating permanent throughout LBTS.
The town is experiencing a renaissance with new, contemporary restaurants that have settled, making the quaint, beachside town known for snowbirds and retirees a place where a younger clientele wants to eat, drink and TikTok.
The newer beachgoers aren’t just out-of-towners. They are locals from all over South Florida who might have grown up going to the beach there or are attracted to the casual bars and restaurants. Parking is at a premium and rideshares are already a norm.
“This is not a temporary thought or idea. What we’ve learned with the original expansion, with COVID, changes peoples habits. Not just here but all over the country and all over the world. It’s on par with that new era of outdoor dining,” mayor Chris Vincent said.
During the special town meeting on Oct. 4, commissioners, residents and business owners were presented three ideas for permanent outdoor dining spaces by Steven Fett Architecture, the same firm that re-designed the town’s Anglin’s Square in 2012.
“They were proposed to generate discussion, and are not real in the sense that they will be approved or denied,” said town spokesperson Steve D’Oliveira.
The concepts were categorized as low impact, medium impact and high impact, referring to the magnitude of the project.
The low impact proposal shows small structures extending out from the sidewalk to the width of the adjacent parking space. Cars might still be able to fit in between each parklet.
The medium impact idea involves a larger structure with a wooden deck and a built-in canopy.
And the highest impact concept would require widening the sidewalk and adding a metal canopy allowing for the highest number of outdoor seats.
These proposals will be up for public discussion during a roundtable on Oct. 27. “My guess is that [the architect] will later draw up firm proposals based on input from the residents after the roundtable is held,” D’Oliveira said.
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Business owners like Even Keel Fish Shack’s chef-owner David MacLennan says his business needs the added outdoor space, not the parking spots.
“If I have five spots in front of me, I would be lucky to have one of them eating at my restaurant. The benefit for us: Chairs make us money – parking spots don’t,” MacLennan said.
A resident of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea who spoke out at the special town meeting did not agree.
“I was a big proponent along with a lot of other people that when this pandemic hit that we did what we did … with regard to allowing restaurants and other places to have use of the sidewalks and other areas to allow business opportunities.”
But the resident went on to say, it’s time the expanded outdoor seating be phased out. “I want to be able to drive down to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea in the daytime and park the way I use to, not because it’s the way I used to do it, but because it’s a good thing for me as a resident of the town,” he said.