Businesses in downtown Danville may be allowed to continue operating outdoors for the remainder of the year, now that the Town Council has indicated its intent to extend the policy instituted earlier in the pandemic.
After an hour of public comment during Tuesday's council meeting, council members directed staff to prepare an ordinance that would allow the use of temporary outdoor seating permits through Jan. 3, 2022, with the potential to expand the policies again after that.
"Clearly, this falls into my no-brainer category. Let's take this to the end of the year; let's give us some time to come up with a master plan," Councilman Robert Storer said during the meeting.
"When everybody stumbled, we tried to right the ship and I think that honestly we did a good job. Now today, clearly we're not out of the woods yet," he added. "These parklets have been such a huge help to businesses and naturally along the way our downtown residents fell in love with this program as well."
The use of temporary outdoor seating areas or parklets was launched in Danville in June 2020 in an effort to help downtown businesses continue to operate safely during the coronavirus pandemic. The original program included the closure of certain segments of Hartz Avenue, although town staff said that the majority of permits were given to businesses that would operate on private property and private parking areas.
While the temporary expansion of the program would allow businesses to continue to take advantage of the program, town officials are also considering a longer-term plan that would allow for expanded outdoor use as a part of its upcoming Town Master Plan.
The move to expand outdoor opportunities for businesses was largely celebrated by local business owners, some of whom said the program has provided valuable support during the uncertain times brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
"It only makes sense to take this foundation and use it as the platform to fine tune and improve what has been established. If you take the opportunity to listen to your downtown businesses and the residents of our community who are taking advantage of our downtown, you may discover how these changes are making a dynamic impact for restaurants, retailers and services -- all who are making up for great losses from 2020 and 2021," said Keva Dodd, a local retailer at Whim House.
Judy Lloyd, president and CEO of the Danville Area Chamber of Commerce, praised the council's proposal to extend outdoor seating, saying the town made a "great decision that helps businesses who are just getting back on their feet to survive and thrive."
"The town has always prioritized attracting customers for downtown businesses as well as the amazing, diverse businesses located at our shopping centers," she added. "One unintended consequence of the pandemic is the chance to rethink how to meet this goal. We’ve seen an uptick of community support for restaurants and retail shops like never before," Lloyd said.
After additional review from staff, the council intends to officially vote on an extension of the outdoor parklet program at a future public meeting.