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Anchorage

To encourage social distancing, Anchorage will allow alcohol to be served in parking lots and on sidewalks

Rooftop bar at Williwaw in downtown Anchorage on Wednesday, June 10, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN)

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Anchorage’s alcohol-serving establishments are now able to seat more people outside, letting their service area spill out into parking lots and sidewalks.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz issued a new emergency order on Tuesday, which went into effect Wednesday morning. The policy relaxes local regulations on alcohol service to allow places like bars, restaurants and breweries to provide more socially distant seating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rules will remain in place through the emergency declaration period, which is set to expire July 31, but could be extended.

The local emergency order follows a temporary change in regulations made by the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office on June 9, allowing the same flexibility in modifying a business’s floor plan.

Chris Schutte, Anchorage’s Economic and Community Development director, said the goal is to allow businesses to make a swift change to get closer to full capacity while still allowing for social distancing. Previously, such a change would follow a more difficult process at the local level, including Assembly approval.

“Allowing businesses with liquor licenses to seat customers outdoors and farther apart will help keep patrons and staff safe,” Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said in a news release. “This emergency order allows for flexibility that gives businesses added options as they adapt to service in a time of COVID.”

In order to expand outdoor seating, a business will have to submit an application to and get approval from the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office.

The rules also potentially allow a business to expand into the street. If a business gets state approval to do so, it will still need the city to sign off. Schutte said bars along Anchorage’s Sixth Avenue, for example, are not going to be allowed to seat customers in the street.

But, he said, the city is working with the Anchorage Downtown Partnership to close off downtown side streets to traffic, which would allow businesses to put tables in the street. Those changes should be announced in the next week or so, Schutte said.

“Once those closures are in place … a licensee who applies for outdoor seating in a public right of way would be able to do it,” he said.

The emergency order also allows businesses to transform what would normally be required parking into a makeshift dining room. Schutte said businesses wanting to put tents up in their parking lot for additional seating realized they were cutting in to the number of parking spaces they’re required to have.

“We certainly recognize that short-term, people who put tents and stuff up and lose parking spaces shouldn’t be held up by that,” he said.

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