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'Punch in the gut': State forces Mukilteo brewpub to shut down outdoor dining

The business can't operate on the sidewalk due to land use issues involving the state's Recreation and Conservation Office.

MUKILTEO, Wash. — Mukilteo's Diamond Knot Alehouse, struggling during the coronavirus pandemic, wanted to put tables on the sidewalk just outside their building to stay afloat. 

It seemed so simple and the city granted the alehouse permission through a special event permit. The six tables just outside the building pushed profits up 15% for a while. 

"Staff was making money. We're making money. Things were finally starting to work out," said Diamond Knot's Korey MacKenzie. "Then, it was a punch in the gut."

That punch came from one single complaint filed to the state's Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO).

It turns out, the sidewalk is technically part of the city's Lighthouse Park across the street from the brewpub.

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While Mukilteo owns the park and the sidewalk, the RCO has jurisdiction over land use issues for the area because it provides the city with state grants for the park.

There are rules governing those grants that are tied to how the land can be used and in the end, the state said a private business cannot use public land for profit. 

That meant Diamond Knot had to shut down its outdoor dining after barely a month of operation. 

Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson thought the state could have bent the rules a bit.

"We've all had to make adjustments during the pandemic. I was hopeful there might be ways to use the emergency order or the restrictions of the pandemic to say this is a one time allowance because of these circumstances that we are in right now," Gregerson said. "It's really disappointing."

"These restrictions are beyond our control," added MacKenzie. "The situation is beyond our control. We're just trying to survive and keep our heads above water so we can take care of our employees."

Some see the action as one more example of big government getting in the way of a small business succeeding.

"I don't think government is getting in the way. Government is just trying to protect the rights of the people," said the RCO Grants Section Manager Marguerite Austin.

She pointed out that, as part of a public park, the sidewalk belongs to everyone, not just the city or Diamond Knot.

"It isn't that we don't care," said Austin. "We do care. Our issue is that we do have an obligation to the people of the state."

The brewpub even asked the governor's office to step in, but that request fell flat.

"We asked if he could maybe write a letter on our behalf, and we were told it would be a waste of their office's time," said MacKenzie. "It was terrible."

Austin said her office is open to working with the city and Diamond Knot to find a solution. That solution, however, would likely involve a land transfer that would have to be approved by the city council.

It's something that would probably take weeks, if not months. By that time, MacKenzie said he is simply hoping the economy will be fully open once again.

"This has been a pretty tough pill for us to swallow, but as with most things in the past year and a half, we resign to the fact that our hands are tied and the best we can do is continue to push through these challenges," he said.

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