Leawood City Council approves expedited permits for outdoor restaurant seating

City Administrator Scott Lambers proposed the change, citing the need for restaurants to expand available seating space to accommodate physical distancing guidelines. The permits are free and will remain in effect through Dec. 31.

Leawood restaurants now have an easier path to adding outdoor seating as they reopen for dine-in service amid loosening restrictions on businesses in Johnson County and the state of Kansas during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Leawood City Council this week unanimously authorized City Administrator Scott Lambers to temporarily issue expedited permits for the city’s restaurants to add outdoor seating, bypassing the normal planning process. At the council’s Monday meeting, Lambers proposed using the permits because “all the reports on the restaurants that are trying to reopen is that the indoor space requirements are basically a killer.”

“They have to really judge whether or not they can justify opening the inside dining given the limited spacing capacity,” he said.

The permits are free and will remain in effect through Dec. 31, Lambers said in an interview Tuesday. No standard application is required. Instead, an applicant must prepare a drawing of the planned expansion that details intended compliance with social distancing requirements.

Then the applicant must contact Lambers at 913-663-9102 or scottl@leawood.org to schedule a time for him to come to the site and evaluate the drawing. He will also consider how the expansion would affect traffic on a sidewalk and vehicle restrictions in a parking lot if the applicant wants to expand to those areas.

If Lambers approves the drawing, then he will sign and date it and it will constitute an approved permit, he said. This kind of permit normally would cost about $100.

Kelly Lindley, director of marketing for Café Foods, which owns Corner Bakery Café Camelot Court at 117th and Roe in Leawood and another restaurant in Overland Park, said the company didn’t plan to expand outdoor seating, but she lauded the council’s action.

“Anything that the city can do to help restaurants bring more customers into the store is great for the city and great for the industry during this time of uncertainty as we navigate the virus,” Lindley said.

Leawood and Johnson County are following Gov. Laura Kelly’s plan for reopening the state, which has several phases with progressively loosened restrictions. Restrictions are planned to remain in effect at least until June 22.

All businesses eligible to reopen may do so if they separate customers, whether individuals or groups, by at least 6 feet. Restaurants may fulfill this requirement “by using physical barriers sufficient to prevent virus spread between seated customers or groups of seated customers,” according to the plan.

The plan currently limits the number of people seated at a table to 10 who are not strangers. It does not limit the number of people in a restaurant at any given time.

“When I’ve gone out recently, it’s amazing how careful restaurateurs are being, wearing masks and gloves …,” Mayor Peggy Dunn said Wednesday.