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Sarasota County approves expanding outside seating and space for restaurants, businesses

With a unanimous vote, commissioners agreed to help restaurants and retail stores draw business back in by allowing them to expand their business outdoors.

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — A vaccine is truly the only way to get back to normal. Until then, multiple counties are continuing with a cautious and calculated reopening plan.

As businesses try to adjust, Sarasota County Commissioners want to help.

Today, commissioners voted unanimously to help restaurants and retail stores attract more customers by allowing locations to expand its services outside.

"We want to help businesses balance between public health and safety and also getting their businesses reopened,” Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines said.

Under Gov. Ron DeSantis' order, restaurants and retail are limited to 25 percent capacity indoors and social distancing is required with outdoor seating.

"That causes a big struggle especially for restaurants because it's already hard enough to make money when you have a restaurant,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler said. “So, the question is do you even open up with 25 percent? I think it's kind of a tough ask and retail, same way."

The goal is to keep places from going out of business and preventing more people from losing their jobs. That’s why commissioners agreed to let businesses expand outdoors.

“Put tables on the sidewalk or maybe they have some parking spots in front of their store, and they want to put product and hang a rack of clothes or whatever,” Ziegler said. “The parking lots aren’t going to be full for a while so let’s let them use that space to be able to expand their business and basically avoid being hamstrung by the 25 percent capacity rule."

If you’re a business owner and interested in expansion, you'll need to get your plan approved.

"Now that doesn't mean you can go in and add a second story to your building OK,” Hines said. “It needs to be COVID-19 related."

The approval process is all online. Fill out a form, set to be made available over the next few days, and submit it to the county.

"It’s going to be pretty quick and pretty seamless,” Ziegler said.

Plus, all temporary use permit fees will be waived.

“We don't want to be a hindrance at all to businesses going again,” Hines said. “Just as long as they are smart, they don't abuse the situation and they don't hinder people from public access."

An idea that Ziegler echos. 

“No one wants to see businesses go under and we don't want to be in the way of potentially saving a business or saving a job,” Ziegler said. “Even if it's just one job  we want to save everything we can at this point.”

RELATED: Gov. DeSantis visits a drive-through COVID-19 testing site in Sarasota

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