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Snohomish restaurants told to modify outdoor spaces navigating what to do next

SNOHOMISH — A majority of the restaurants told by the city in August to get official permits for their outdoor dining structures and canopies or otherwise take them down are each now trying to navigate a maze of regulations.
Three simply removed their tents by the city's Oct. 13 deadline.
Five others would like to keep their covered outdoor spaces and still had them up as of last week. They are Uptown Winery, Roger's Riverview Bistro, Thai and Taps, Andy's Fish House and Pizza Brava.
To continue with an outdoor structure, their building owners would need to agree to compliance agreements stating the building owner is admitting fault for violating city code and binds the building owner to work toward correcting this in six months.
The plan must ultimately replace the structure.
The six-month clock began Nov. 9, almost a month ago, when the city mailed a new round of compliance agreements to the property owners, city building and fire official Koi Simpson said.
Two of the five have formally signed a compliance agreement, Simpson said Nov. 30. One other has communicated favorably to the idea, he said.
The agreements allow the city to "abate" the structure if things go past the 180-day window and waives their right to go through an appeal process if they fail to comply with the agreement.
The compliance process has some uncomfortable pitfalls, the small business owners said in interviews. They are concerned they'll sink thousands of dollars toward designing a replacement without a guarantee the city will sign off to let them to build it.
But more so, business owners said they've felt like they're on their own to figure all of it out.

Why and how
City building officials see their code enforcement actions as cut-and-dried matters of life and safety code compliance.
The structures are classified as temporary structures that have been up for more than a year in violation of city code.
They issued warnings Aug. 2. Later, City Hall gave a reprieve for restaurants to keep their tents for six months if they sign the city’s agreement. The grace period was to get through the winter months.
Andy's, Uptown and Thai and Taps each put their tents up during COVID-19 to create hospitable outdoor dining spaces that met coronavirus restrictions. Some First Street restaurants that didn't have outdoor patios were given carve-out spaces to set up outdoor spaces as a city program, for example.
The tents replaced shade umbrellas at the restaurants.
Creating a space is why Uptown Winery, on Avenue A, erected its commercial-grade wooden gazebo.
Across the road, Thai and Taps also put its tent structure up during COVID-19 in wintertime. At Thai and Taps, people today use the tent for outdoor dining with their dogs.
Uptown Winery co-owner Jackie Vail thought their structure met code. "We were under the impression (that) when you look up city codes, many say under 120 square feet does not require a permit," she said. Theirs is at 10-feet-by-12-feet, she said.
Both were among eight that got violation notices.
Thai and Taps owner "Boom" Martin said the city has been helpful, but doesn't like that there isn’t a guarantee the city will give a permit if they pay an engineer thousands of dollars for plans to submit to the city. If the city doesn't approve, they'd be out the money, Martin worried.
Thai and Taps’ building owner is Boom’s husband, Darrell Martin. They haven’t signed an agreement as they are studying options. He said they might build something different than a freestanding structure if it would enhance the value of the building.
If any of the businesses replaced their structures with umbrellas, these aren't subject to code enforcement, Simpson said.
No matter what, for those who sign the voluntary compliance agreement, the structures have to come down by the end of the six months because these are out of compliance, Simpson said.
The ones who don’t sign could face code enforcement penalties at any time, he said. The city’s hands are tied to do its job.

Down to business
Restaurant owners say if they lose business it ultimately hurts the city.
Andy's Fish House seats just 25 indoors; the outdoor seating adds almost 30.
"I feel badly for Andy's, that's half his business," Erik Vail of Uptown said.
Andy's owners did not respond to a request for an interview through emails or messages left at the restaurant.
Roger Eydt of Roger's Riverview Bistro, on First Street, has a similar perspective on economics. "If I'm open and thriving" it's helping downtown thrive, he said. If Snohomish loses having a variety of restaurants, tourists might shop elsewhere, he said.
Eydt installed a professionally made tent to cover his deck nine years ago without the city saying anything until August. The covered deck is a key feature of his restaurant, and the covering maintains a temperate environment for dining — keeping summer heat out, and helping shield diners from rain.
City economic development and outreach coordinator Brady Begin said his work has been to find solutions within City Hall to accommodate businesses.
He said as of last week he’s met with two of the five restaurants.
One example idea, he said, is he helped find a path for the restaurants to be eligible to apply for the city’s small business grant program called Snohomish Thrives as long as a compliance agreement is in place.
The Snohomish Thrives program uses federal coronavirus money to help
nonprofits and small businesses offset their losses from COVID-19. It’s the only avenue Begin has identified so far to give a path for financial assistance.
More than one restaurateur the Tribune spoke with hadn’t heard of the Thrives grant program, or knew who in City Hall is their direct contact for small business issues after economic development director Wendy Poischbeg left in 2022.
On walking the businesses through their code enforcement issues, Begin said he’s leaving that to the planning department versus taking a liaison role. Building code is complicated, for one.
Simpson said building officials can present the code rules a project must meet, but they often refrain from giving advice on designs.
The restaurant owners have encountered other hiccups along the way.
Uptown's owners Jackie and Erik Vail had the impression that a compliance meeting they had with city building officials formalized their compliance agreement. They said nobody informed them it didn't. They were taken by surprise when Uptown was denied a Snohomish Thrives grant in October. It's because their landlord hadn't signed the compliance agreement yet with the city. Their landlord, who they have good relations with, signed Nov. 15.

What's needed to keep a tent will cost money
One of the steps for a restaurant to keep a covered structure is to design a structure and present a detailed design to the city. This would necessitate hiring a licensed professional.
"In most cases the applicant will need an architect and even a structural engineer (Registered Design Professional) to meet the submittal requirements for commercial buildings," Simpson said.
Hiring an engineer would cost between $4,000 to $10,000, more than one restaurateur said.
The rules the structures would need to comply with originate from a handful of uniform building code books used internationally.
A few were floored to learn that among the rules are the structures must withstand 110 mph winds. The snow load rating is 25 pounds per square foot, and Washington typically has heavy wet snow that may affect how mighty the structure must be.
In their meeting, Jackie Vail said a building official told them that the financial costs to meet compliance don't matter because no loss of life is OK.
Her reaction to that is that the city's current administration isn't business-friendly. Seven years ago, Snohomish's business-friendly reputation was "part of why we chose this town," Erik Vail said. "Now it's the opposite."
Three restaurants pulled their tents by the Oct. 13 deadline: Jake’s Cafe, SnoTown Brewery and Hops N Drops. Jake's used a large tent to seat about 10 tables. SnoTown pulled its outdoor structure on the day of an Oct. 13 deadline. Hops N Drops in Snohomish Station, a chain restaurant, pulled its structure within days of getting the city's August notice.


  

 


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