KEY WEST EMBRACES SIDEWALK CAFES & CONSIDERS DOUBLING TRANSIENT LICENSE FEES

Key West officials have significantly lowered the proposed cost for restaurants to offer sidewalk table seating. The city commission is expected to approve the new fees at its Jan. 4 meeting. CONTRIBUTED

The coronavirus could leave one positive adaptation in its wake (when and if it ever leaves for good).

Key West’s sidewalk cafes, launched in 2021 to enable more social distancing in outdoor areas, are here to stay.

When the city commission meets on Tuesday, Jan. 4, lawmakers will consider a new law that makes sidewalk cafes official and sets the fees for restaurants wishing to place tables and chairs on city sidewalks in front of their establishments. 

The city initially proposed a $500-per-seat licensing fee as well as a one-time impact fee of $592 that was payable over seven years. 

The $500/seat price was cost prohibitive for all but a handful of local restaurants, but city officials wanted to support the program, “especially in light of the public health benefits of outdoor dining during the pandemic,” city documents state.

So City Manager Patti McLauchlin and Assistant City Manager Todd Stoughton sat down at some of those outdoor tables with restaurant owners before holding a city workshop in June to hear their concerns and consider more reasonable fees levied by other Florida cities.

The new ordinance to be considered at next week’s meeting will require an annual base fee of $100 to participate in the program and the $592 impact fee payable over seven years, or $85 per year. But the $500-per-seat licensing fee has been removed from the proposed ordinance.

Restaurant owners also must obtain a statement from adjacent property and business owners “if a restaurant validly licensed for the cafe seating program would like to also place tables in front of an adjacent property or business,” the proposed law states.

The commission on Tuesday also will consider its first-ever cost increase to the city’s transient rental medallion program that requires short-term rental properties to buy an annual medallion that authorizes rentals of fewer than 28 days. 

Since 2006, the annual cost of the medallions that are displayed on the front of the property to be rented, has remained at $150 per year. But city staff have reported that the price was not sufficient to cover the cost of the medallions and many properties never received a medallion to display.

“As of today, most properties do not carry the appropriate Transient Medallion due to supply and

Demand,” documents state. “The yearly cost of a medallion order is $8,000 for 100 plaques. The approval of the fee increase will help with the costs associated with this license and will give us the opportunity to license all transient properties appropriately.

“Fifteen years have passed since the Transient Medallion fee of $125 was implemented in 2006 and this fee has never been increased.”

In other upcoming commission activity, Mayor Teri Johnston will present her State of the City address and the city manager and city attorney will provide updates on relevant topics. The commission meets at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 4. The full agenda is available at cityofkeywest-fl.gov.

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.