By SCOTT COTTOS
Fostoria businesses that have been financially struggling through the coronavirus pandemic got at least an offer of some help Tuesday night from city council.
During a meeting conducted via Zoom.com, council unanimously, after one reading, passed a measure allowing for businesses such as restaurants to ask for temporary outdoor space on city sidewalks.
The regulation of the ordinance is in the hands of Safety Service Director Deb Hellman.
In Ohio, outdoor dining was allowed May 15, and dine-in service can begin Thursday. The state has also issued a list of mandatory and recommended guidelines, including social distancing of six feet between employees or the use of barriers and the use of facial coverings by workers.
Some places have their own property to be able to have outdoor dining, but many do not.
Mayor Eric Keckler asked council to pass the ordinance, noting that he’s discussed the issue with other city officials, as well as business owners.
The ordinance is designated to expire at the end of the calendar year.
“With the return of restaurants and bars to some sort of in-person visiting, we have been having conversations, watching what other cities are doing,” Keckler said. “The idea is for simply this COVID pandemic situation, an allowance for us to work with, especially the downtown restaurants that might need some potential extra seating outside, to assist them in any way. The worry was if someone came to see us and we were two or potentially three weeks out from a council meeting — they’ve all been struggling; we’ve been doing everything we can to direct business to those who do carryout or deliveries — we wanted to have the possibility of granting them some temporary outdoor seating. … to try to be able to get out in front of this and be prepared for anybody who might need our help.
“We wanted to try to pass this ordinance so we could have ability to be ready to help any restaurant or one of the bars or clubs downtown, to give them a little more space. We realize it is only for this time being.”
Council member Brian Shaver, though voting to approve the ordinance, expressed some concerns.
“I think it’s good for our businesses,” he said. “I think it’s important that they know how serious this is, the situation that we’re in right now. I think, fiscally, they do understand that, and I do think that things need to open back up.
“I have a concern for our law enforcement, mainly because we’re going to see these businesses out on the sidewalks, conducting themselves, and the general public’s going to get the idea that it’s OK to go and do that at their own houses, and we’re going to end up getting disturbance calls, and our police are going to have to go to these places to break up parties and some other things that aren’t through the zoning process, that aren’t businesses. I just want the businesses to understand the serious nature of the responsibility they have in the allowance to open up in this way, to not further harm our safety forces. Personally, I think we’re going to be close to shutting back down in about three weeks.”
Keckler reported that while the Fostoria Garden Club’s first Farmers’ Market of the season went well last week, the city’s July 4th fireworks have been called off. Also canceled have been the Guitar Fest and Latino Fest.
The mayor and Finance Director Holly Cassady said financial affects of the pandemic for the city, such as the amounts of income tax and assistance from the federal and state governments, are yet to be determined.