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Ft. Mitchell, Erlanger Take Steps to Assist Restaurants in Reopening

The mayors of the cities of Ft. Mitchell and Erlanger each took executive action in an effort to assist restaurants as they begin the reopening process during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Ft. Mitchell Mayor Jude Hehman and Erlanger Mayor Jessica Fette signed executive orders relaxing current zoning limits on outdoor dining capacity.

Under current guidelines outlined by Governor Andy Beshear, indoor dining can resume on May 22 at 33 percent capacity, along with outdoor dining where social distancing of at least six feet is maintained.

Recognizing the limits placed on restaurants with the new indoor dining restrictions, the mayors hope to increase the amount of outdoor dining space available.

In Ft. Mitchell, the current zoning ordinance allows for outdoor dining for most restaurants but limits it to 50 percent or less of the indoor capacity. That ordinance is now suspended and allows for outdoor dining to be combined with indoor dining capacity, not to exceed the regular capacity available at each restaurant under normal circumstances.

"I'm happy that our restaurants have the opportunity to welcome guests back for in-person dining service and we want to do everything we can to help them be successful while keeping our residents and visitors safe," said Mayor Hehman. "There is a fantastic group of responsible restaurant owners in our city who are anxious to have people return for dining but want to make sure they do so safely. This Executive Order will give them some flexibility as they make their decisions on how and when to reopen."

Restaurants will still be required to comply with current city noise ordinances as well as the restrictions on hours of operation and outdoor entertainment. If outdoor dining is expanded into parking lots, sufficient barriers must be in place to protect diners from vehicles, and fire lanes cannot be blocked.

Outdoor dining can take place till 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

When bars are allowed to reopen, Hehman said that he plans to follow up with additional instructions to allow for similar expansion.

In Erlanger, the outdoor dining ordinance is also suspended by Mayor Fette's order.

"With the struggles that our Erlanger restaurants have encountered due to the pandemic, the City of Erlanger needs to remove any barrier to getting their businesses back up and running,” said Fette. “The suspension of our outside seating zoning requirements gives restaurants the ability to think outside of the box and outside of their walls."

Matt Grimes, owner of the Colonial Cottage in Erlanger, is anxious to reopen.

“We went from nearly 50 employees to ten on staff, and greatly reduced our hours of operation to save on payroll expenses,” said Grimes.

For Colonial Cottage, which focuses on in-house dining, March is generally a transition month for the restaurant’s busy season, “coming in like a kitten and out like a lion,” as Grimes said.

“By mid-March, we normally add staff and get ready for a busy spring and early summer,” said Grimes. “This year, our business fell off dramatically March 12, and fell again March 16 when we were closed to in-house dining.”

As Colonial Cottage transitioned to curbside-only service, Grimes said that his business fell to one-tenth of what it should have been.

The business adjusted an eliminated some parking spaces to create a curbside traffic pattern with orange cones and colored tape, Grimes said. The popular Dixie Highway restaurant started to host cookouts on weather-friendly days.

He plans to add more outdoor dining and his construction budget will be boosted by a grant from the City of Erlanger.

“For the restaurant people in Erlanger, we are probably closer now than we have ever been,” said Grimes. “We see each other in the restaurant supply stores and frequently compare notes in the hope of making our operations more efficient.”

The City of Bellevue is also in the process of enacting new legislation to permit expanding dining outdoors.

-Staff report

Photo: Matt Grimes at Colonial Cottage (provided)