By Seth Daniel
The City has made available new applications that will – for the first time – officially allow outdoor restaurant seating on the City sidewalks, hopefully ushering in a new trend of al fresco dining throughout the city.
City officials notified the Council in late June that they would begin offering a free permit for restaurants that qualify to have outdoor dining in a pilot program that started this month.
“We are going to be distributing a letter to restaurants and also to the Chamber of Commerce too,” said City Planner Tony Sousa. “It’s really a great addition to everything Mayor Carlo DeMaria’s been advocating for in Everett Square.”
The pilot program will run through the warm months as a pilot, likely ending some time in the fall. At that point, the City departments will evaluate how it worked and what can be done to improve it.
At this point, the outdoor seating permit is free, but alcohol service outside is not allowed. That said, City officials indicated that they do believe in time the program will include alcohol, but adding that aspect is more complicated and requires state permits.
Sousa said the regulations, which required no zoning relief or any City ordinance changes, are modeled after the regulations for outdoor seating in Richmond, VA.
“They had a very good set of regulations, and we modeled ours after their handbook and added our own things too,” he said.
He added that anyone who currently has outdoor seating that conforms will be given the permit in a very easy process that requires very little action on the part of the owner.
At the moment though, very few are exercising the prerogative to have outdoor seating. Sousa said the City is really hoping to get some restaurants to apply and give it a try.
Some of the requirements are that high-quality seating is used. So, in other words, no plastic chairs and tables. There cannot be any advertisements on the furniture or umbrellas. And the sidewalk has to be able to maintain a four foot clearance unobstructed.
The applicant simply has to fill out the application and provide a sketch of what has to be done, in addition to carrying an insurance binder that covers outdoor seating – which they said is very standard.
Once submitted, the application will be reviewed by various departments in City Hall to make sure there are no problems. Once that review is done, he said, restaurants are free to innovate in many different ways through the new program.