The patio at Spring House Brewing Co.'s new brewpub.

Restaurants in Lancaster city can apply now for special sidewalk cafe permits to allow additional outdoor seating when the county moves Friday to the yellow phase of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan.

The special, temporary permits will be authorized under an ordinance expected to be approved at a special meeting of City Council on Friday morning. That meeting will be held by teleconference.

Council had a first reading of the ordinance during a special teleconference meeting held Monday evening prior to its monthly committee meeting.

“Our restaurants and retailers have been hit extremely hard. We have heard loud and clear that we need to assist these restaurants to expand their capacity as much as they can” said Marshall Snively, head of the Lancaster City Alliance, which helped gather input on the plan from restaurant owners. “This could be what saves some of our businesses in the downtown.”

Stephen Campbell, the city’s director of public works, told council his department will visit restaurants wishing to apply to assist them with filling out their applications in order to help make sure seating plans being submitted meet state and city safety guidelines. Interpreters will be available to assist Spanish speaking restaurant owners. There is no fee for the permit, and the application and approval process has been streamlined.

Restaurants can immediately apply for the permit here.

“We don’t want to create any obstacle to them being able to open,” Campbell said.

Under the ordinance, which will remain in effect through the end of the year, all restaurants in the city are eligible to establish outdoor seating areas. Places that already have outdoor cafes may also apply to expand those areas.

Restaurants will not be limited to just the sidewalk immediately in front of their business if neighboring property owners give permission for seating to be expanded in front of their properties. In some cases, outdoor cafes may also be allowed to establish parklettes, which are extensions of the sidewalk installed in parking spaces on the street.

All outdoor cafe seating must conform to social distancing and other safety guidelines established by the state Department of Health and the federal Center for Disease Control. Tables and chairs must be located in places approved by city officials and cannot be moved or combined with other tables. The ordinance also states rules and regulations for the outdoor cafe areas can be changed as needed if state or federal guidelines change or if the city deems changes needed to ensure the safety of restaurant customers and employees

“We hope this is a great way for restaurants to start to recapture the market,” Campbell said.