Several local municipalities are working with restaurant owners in their business districts to ease restrictions on the permitting process for outdoor seating as the region enters the second phase of the state’s reopening plan.
Last week the towns of North Caste and New Castle took steps to establish an expedited process while the Village of Pleasantville and other communities throughout the area are expected to discuss the matter this week.
Food service establishments, closed except for take-out and delivery service since mid-March when the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to shutter, were originally scheduled to reopen in Phase 3, which wouldn’t start before June 23. However, early last week, Gov. Cuomo amended that restriction, allowing for socially distanced seating outside.
The region has entered Phase 2, effective Tuesday, which includes the opening of retail and professional offices with capacity restrictions and guidelines for personal protection equipment.
While towns and villages in the area typically have a stringent approvals process for outdoor dining, some have been lifted or loosened to benefit the business owners and also the residents, many of whom are clamoring to get outside.
North Castle Supervisor Michael Schiliro said the process of filling out the application with the Building Department will remain in place but it will be the building inspector that will issue licenses for outdoor seating rather than through a special permit from the Town Board.
“What we’re doing is helping our building inspector facilitate as quickly as we can any of these requests,” Schiliro said. “We’re not saying that every restaurant may want to do this, or every eatery, but this will hopefully help them.”
In North Castle, the license will be valid until Nov. 1 or when 100 percent capacity is allowed inside restaurants by the state, whichever comes first. Under the resolution that was approved at a special meeting last Saturday, tables and chairs must be at least six feet apart, all employees must wear masks at all times and patrons must wear masks except when they are seated.
Tables and chairs are permitted on the sidewalk in front of the establishment or on the side or rear of the business, and can be extended if allowed by the adjacent property owners, said Director of Planning Adam Kaufman.
If the restaurant has a parking lot, up to 50 percent of its off-street parking can be used for seating as well, he said.
The furniture must be removable and not cause a safety concern for pedestrians or vehicular traffic.
In New Castle, the Town Board agreed last week to amend its process for allowing outdoor dining, however, made a distinction between public and private property.
The board approved a resolution last Tuesday suspending current zoning to allow business owners to apply for the use of public spaces or private property. Food establishments along with retail, gym operations and personal care services are the types of businesses that can seek the outdoor space, said Town Attorney Nicholas Ward-Willis.
For requests to use public property, the town can issue permits administratively without delay. Town Administrator Jill Shapiro has been authorized to create an application form that business owners could submit to Building Inspector Thomas DePole for consideration. Shapiro would issue permits based on DePole’s recommendation.
For private property, the town is holding a public hearing on June 16 to discuss a needed revision in local law to allow for outdoor commerce. The expectation is that the hearing will be opened and closed with the board taking a vote that same evening.
The law would be in effect until Nov. 15 to try to capture the remainder of the outdoor season.
“The intent here is to make this as user-friendly as possible recognizing the temporary use until the end of the year,” Ward-Willis said. “We don’t want it to be unduly burdensome both on the administrative side as well as the cost and expense to comply with the law.”
All business owners must comply with safety guidelines, including social distancing and the use of masks.
Supervisor Ivy Pool said the town wants to do everything it can to help merchants and restaurant owners survive the pandemic and the significant disruptions it has caused.
“I think it’s a win for our business community and I also think it’s a win for the community at large when we think about the overall safety of the community,” Pool said.