The Newton City Council approved changes to outdoor dining regulations at a meeting Monday night, allowing restaurant owners to seat more guests on streets and in parking spots than before.
“What the restaurants do not need is a ton of more hoops to jump through, because they already have a ton of people to respond to,” said Andrea Kelley, Ward 3 councilor-at-large. “This would allow unlimited seating outside.”
With the intent of easing restaurants’ difficulties adapting to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the proposed amendment would give business owners full discretion to go above the current limitations on outdoor dining capacity.
Current regulations cap a restaurant’s outdoor capacity at eight chairs or 10 percent of indoor capacity, whichever is greater. To go above the limit, restaurants must acquire a permit from a Health and Human Services commissioner, according to the city’s ordinance.
The amendment went to a voiced vote and passed unanimously. Councilor Andreae Downs made a motion for reconsideration so councilors could voice last-minute thoughts about the amendment, but the motion was denied, approving the amendment.
Ward 7 Councilor Lisle Baker and Downs called for reconsiderations of the new amendment to limit the cap to just the front of restaurants. They also called for the amendment to distinguish between sidewalks and street space.
The council voted the limitation down in 1–7. But, the latter reconsideration led to the approval of a separate proposal that the city waive parking space fees for outdoor dining spaces for the 2022 calendar year.
Baker said that the council must also discuss the requirements that must accompany the amendment. Business owners must submit a detailed blueprint of table layout to their ward councilors for approval and share the layout with neighboring shops prior to any action being taken, she said.
“I’m concerned that you could have a business next door that is adversely affected,” said Marc Laredo, councilor-at-large of Ward 7. “And [they] would get no notice or no opportunity to complain, even though it’s their streetfront that is being affected.”
Other council members said the existing ordinance already addresses the need for adequate passing room for wheelchairs, strollers, and pedestrian traffic, which restaurants must continue to adhere to even with the amendment.
“It is clear that all of us want to help our community continue to survive in this post-pandemic world,” said Alicia Bowman, councilor-at-large of Ward 6. “We want to make it easier for local restaurants to offer outdoor seating. Now we just have to do the work.”
Featured Image by Victor Stefanescu / Heights Editor