This week, King County officially entered a modified version of phase one of Washington’s reopening plan during the COVID-19 pandemic. Restaurants in Seattle can now have outdoor seating at 50 percent capacity and indoor seating at 25 percent. Since expanded outdoor seating could be a key to staying afloat during the next phase, one Capitol Hill restaurant has proposed an outdoor plaza on Melrose Ave.
The effort, led by Mamnoon owner Wassef Haroun, was submitted in mid-May and proposed a scheduled closure of Melrose Ave to allow tables, seating and service on portions of the street (Haroun’s landlord drew up the diagram seen below). In addition to Haroun’s Lebanese restaurant, that area also includes neighbors Terra Plata and Stateside.
This proposal arrives as discussion of expanding outdoor seating onto sidewalks and streets in Seattle has intensified.
Last week, city councilmember Dan Strauss told The Stranger that he has been working with other lawmakers on transforming Ballard Ave NW into a plaza with outdoor seating. And Seattle Neighborhood Greenways founder Gordon Padelford, who helped spearhead the current “Stay Healthy” street closures around the city, has been in active discussions with city officials on proposing more outdoor seating for restaurants in certain neighborhoods. Other cities, such as San Francisco and New York, have already advanced similar plans.
“We’ve been talking to [Seattle] council members about it, and they have all been supportive, but the ball is with the mayor right now,” says Padelford.
But the timing on when Haroun, Padelford, or Strauss’s various proposals might get put to a vote remains unclear, especially as the city contends with the continuing protests over police brutality — an obvious priority. That’s not to mention the challenges that will come with navigating the next phase of reopening Seattle’s economy during the pandemic, and tracking the spread of COVID-19.
When contacted for comment, a spokesperson for Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said, “Weeks ago, Mayor Durkan asked the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to evaluate how to open streets for usage in a way that protects public health and safety and complies with the Governor’s Safe Start Washington timeline.” There was no update on when SDOT and the city would implement any plan.
Still, Haroun wants to make sure his May proposal doesn’t get completely swept under the table.
“Of course, the current protests are drawing all the city’s resources,” he says. “But I want to make sure that we and many many other restaurants on streets that can be treated the same way are not left hanging — or worse, left behind — because some council members push for their areas while others don’t.”
UPDATED, June 5, 2020, 11:39 a.m.: This piece has been updated with info about King County’s approval to enter a modified phase one of the state’s reopening plan.