Fairhope considers opening sidewalks, parking spots for dining

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FAIRHOPE – With space in reopened Fairhope restaurants limited by social distancing requirements, city officials are looking at providing more outdoor areas for diners on sidewalks and streets.

The Fairhope City Council discussed a plan on May 11 to open up more outdoor dining spaces on downtown streets in an effort to help restaurants deal with limited seating.

Councilman Jimmy Conyers said the move could help local businesses that are trying to recover after being closed since March.

“I had heard from a few citizens who had an idea of possibly offering some additional sidewalk space or even blocking off some parking spaces to allow restaurants to maybe increase their capacity outside because I think we’ve only got about four or five weeks that you’ll be able to eat outside,” Conyers said. “It’ll be too hot. To maintain a 50-percent occupancy and be six-feet apart in some of the restaurants in Fairhope; I think they would only be able to get a 20-percent occupancy and keep people properly socially distanced.”

Conyers said the city might allow sidewalks and parking spots to be used on Friday and Saturday nights.

“You can’t shut down downtown parking during the week, but thought that might be something,” Conyers said.

Conyers said that while restaurants are now allowed to permit people to dine inside, many patrons are still reluctant to be close to others.

“Obviously, it’s been a really tough couple of months and people are not going to pile into, well, they’re not going to be allowed to, but even if they are allowed to, I don’t think people would cram into a tight restaurant right away,” Conyers said.

Councilman Robert Brown said any change would have to be worded so that it treated all businesses fairly and did not interrupt traffic, but that the proposal could help merchants and the economy.

“If we were just talking about allowing the parking spots in front of each establishment, I think that’s a good idea. If that’s all you’re going to be doing and not affecting the flow of traffic and everybody’s got the same opportunity, allowing the parking spots in front of each establishment, I think that’s a good idea,” Brown said.

Mayor Karin Wilson said the city closes some areas for public uses during events such as the Fairhope Arts and Crafts Festival.

“During Arts and Crafts, a lot of people use the sidewalk, because you can walk anywhere,” she said. “I do think possibly closing off some of the parking and making it equitable would allow for people to just walk freely and safely and continue having the parking at the perimeter, like you said, maybe just for the weekend.”

Council President Jack Burrell said city officials would have to see if the law would allow private businesses to use public property, but the plan could help businesses cope with current restrictions.

“Every day that they can’t put more than 20 percent, they’re hurting themselves,” Burrell said.