WHITMAN — Town officials are looking into a weekly block-off of the streets in Whitman Center to help downtown eateries whose businesses have been impacted by coronavirus safety closedown, as the reopening phases begin.
Hanson, meanwhile, has fewer restaurants that need or have the safe location to provide outdoor dining, some town officials said during their Tuesday, June 9 meeting.
“Obviously, a lot of our restaurants have been severely affected by this,” said Selectman Randy LaMattina at Whitman’s June 9 meeting, and suggested having Assistant Town Administrator Lisa Green look into perhaps closing the center down one day a week to permit restaurants in that area to expand outdoors a bit within the governor’s guidelines.
Board members were enthusiastic about the idea.
“Randy, you hit a home run on that one,” said Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski.
“This could turn into something very positive and maybe keep going even after everything has gone back to whatever normal will be,” said Selectman Brian Bezanson. “This could maybe change the downtown area for the positive.”
Green noted that it has been in the news that some other towns have done that.
“It’s worked out very well,” she said.
“Let’s get that ball rolling,” Kowalski said.
The discussion followed approval of a Common Victualler’s license for Old Colony Brewing, as well as a request to expand the business for outdoor seating at its location, 605 Bedford St.
Co-owner Dennis Nash joined the board’s virtual meeting June 9 to outline his plan, which includes three parking spaces on the side of the building where owner Richard Rosen has granted permission for the business to place outdoor seating, if approved.
“I sent a list of the safety protocols that we would put in place to open, with a maximum number of 24 people there — probably more like 16 at a time — with reservations and 45-minute intervals,” Nash said. A 15-minute cleaning would take place between reservations.
Nash said the plan was devised according to recommendations in Gov. Charlie Baker’s June 1 order as well as a consultation with Health Inspector Alexis Andrews.
“In order to offer outside service, he must also offer food, and that’s the reason for the application for the Common Victualler [license],” said Town Administrator Frank Lynam.
A dozen other licensees were also approved, according to Gov. Baker’s June 1 order, at the request of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission Executive Director Ralph Sacramone.
Lynam said the intent is to allow a quick response to other business owners seeking to do that while boards may be meeting infrequently.
Selectman Justin Evans asked if Old Colony Brewing was the only business seeking the permit that does not already serve food.
“You have to serve food and it has to be prepared on the premises,” Lynam said. “It can’t be a snack truck driving in.”
Any other establishment that, like Old Colony Brewing does not already have a Common Victualler license for serving food, must also come in — as Nash did — to apply for that license.
Selectman Dan Salvucci asked if handicapped accessibility laws would be relaxed for businesses eyeing sidewalk space for outdoor seating.
“No,” Lynam said. “ADA is a federal law. There has to be sufficient room for the public to travel [through], and most of these are not going to be sidewalk. They’re going to be parking lot or side aisle-like locations.”
Hanson’s Health Board Chairman Arlene Dias and Town Counsel Kate Feodoroff met via video conference June 9 to discuss the outdoor dining provisions for Hanson.
“At this point, it looks like the biggest impact we’re going to have is Phase 2 Part 2, which I am assuming is going to be the 29th,” Dias said. “I don’t think we have a lot of restaurants that have the capacity to do outside seating.”
The Hitching Post on Route 58 and The Meadow Brook on Route 27 already have or are planning outdoor seating, but Mo’s Place also has picnic tables roped off in the front parking lot along Route 27 for the breakfast/lunch eatery’s customers. Connie’s, located in Indian Head Plaza on Route 27 has indicated to FitzGerald-Kemmett that they have always offered outdoor seating.
Dias said more businesses will open and, while “it’s not fast enough for some people” she has to make sure the town’s number of COVID-19 cases does not go up from too many people congregating.
“I would think, as a board, we’d want to support our local restaurants by pushing the envelope a little because, for this particular phase, where they’ve had their dining rooms shut down, some have continued to do take-out throughout the pandemic, but some have not,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “Now we’re at a juncture where we’re able to support these small businesses.”
She asked Feodoroff what kind of power the board has to try to get local restaurants back on their feet.
Feodoroff said Gov. Baker’s order is broad and there is legislation pending to create flexibility where towns were given none.
Zoning issues can crop up when business use part of the parking area for outdoor dining, which can be waived through a streamlined application process without triggering public hearings normally triggered under the Ch. 40-A zoning act. Liquor licenses normally carry similar application requirements.
She said Board of Selectmen policies would have to be enacted to govern the situation, governing hours and ensuring the ADA requirements are not violated.
Feodoroff said the liquor accommodations can last into November when the governor would likely rescind his order. Once a policy is created a single individual can be assigned to approve outdoor dining plans, but the liquor controls are more involved.
She also stressed, as Lynam had, that outdoor dining at bars require on-premise food preparations. For businesses opting to put up a tent in the event of rain, the tents must be open on at least two sides, or it defeats the purpose of outdoor dining.
Restaurants selling liquor have to follow ABCC regulations for patio spaces to ensure customer safety as they dine in what is normally a parking lot.
Building Inspector Robert Curran suggested requiring a site plan filed with the Selectmen who should be accommodating in scheduling meetings. The police chief would be involved in the event there were any safety concerns.
Blauss moved that Town Administrator John Stanbrook be named to facilitate outdoor dining permits according to state regulations.