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City Council gives preliminary approval to extending outdoor dining rules

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council on Wednesday gave preliminarily approval to a bill that could make outdoor dining and retail options a more permanent fixture of city life.

As a response to COVID-19, the city streamlined its process for reviewing permits that give businesses the ability to use public rights-of-way like sidewalks or parking lanes. Those options were a lifeline to businesses amid a pandemic that spreads indoors. But the program was set to expire at the end of last year.

The new bill extends the program for restaurants and businesses to apply for permits to use adjoining sidewalks and parking lanes, or to reserve a parking space for carry-out use.

Prior to council's vote Wednesday, Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition executive director Maria Cohen told council members that the program benefitted small businesses over the last two years.

"Clearly the pandemic has been a very trying time for our retailers to survive," she said. "During the pandemic, it was very helpful to many restaurants and businesses ... during trying economic times."

Cohen said the process would continue to help save businesses.

City Councilor Bruce Kraus, who represents the South Side, said the bill was good for small businesses.

"If there's probably anything more important on our agendas right now in terms of assisting small businesses, it's to help revitalize what food and beverage business is today and how to assist in welcoming them back," he said.

While the licenses must be renewed annually, the city's Department of Mobility and Infrastructure is currently waiving the fees for doing so.