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ABQ leaders try to help businesses use outdoor space

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Ordering pizza in a parking lot or a sandwich from the sidewalk may soon be as ordinary as sliding into a booth at your favorite Albuquerque restaurant.

With the economy slowly reopening but physical separation still the norm, city leaders want to give local businesses new ways to spread out.

Albuquerque City Councilors Cynthia Borrego and Diane Gibson, for example, are proposing a temporary change in city ordinance that would allow restaurants to expand their service area outdoors to parking lots, landscaped areas and setbacks.

Mayor Tim Keller, meanwhile, announced earlier this week that the city will allow restaurants to offer sidewalk seating – something it also did last summer – and that it will also consider proposals to use city streets and other public spaces for outdoor dining.

“We are entertaining ideas on how to do things like close parts of streets or streets or use Civic Plaza or the Rail Yards if folks are interested,” Keller said Wednesday.

COVID-19 led New Mexico officials in March to severely restrict restaurant activity, rules that are only now being loosened.

As of Wednesday, restaurants could resume outdoor dining service. They can reopen indoor areas next week, but only at 50% capacity.

Albuquerque restaurants would have to apply for the temporary outdoor dining permits proposed by Borrego and Gibson and in the process agree to follow all state public health orders, including those limiting capacity.

But the sponsors say the permits should make it easier for restaurants to recover while still limiting the spread of coronavirus.

“We’re interested in safe reopening. … It creates more space for less (virus) transmission,” Borrego said.

Should the council pass the bill, Borrego said the permits should be available some time in June. They will cost $20 as proposed.

“Folks who make their living in restaurants have really been hurting for a very long time, and this is an opportunity we have as a city to help support them – not only to help expand their dining area, but make it more comfortable and safer,” Gibson said.

Borrego and Gibson are also introducing a resolution allowing businesses to establish seating or gathering areas in adjacent on-street parking spots. Known as “parklets” or “parquitos,” Albuquerque Planning Director Brennon Williams said they have been allowed in the past but have not been formalized via the latest update to the city’s Development Process Manual.

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