Metro, Politics

Newton Zoning and Planning Committee Approves Public Hearing of Permanent Outdoor Dining Proposal

A public hearing at which Newton residents can submit comments about a proposed amendment to the city’s zoning ordinances that would make seasonal outdoor dining permanent within the city will take place on Feb. 13, Newton’s Zoning and Planning Committee said at a meeting on Monday night.

The amendment also seeks to codify the city’s authority over the outdoor dining program and supervise the availability of parking spaces as outdoor dining expands in the city, a memo submitted to the committee reads.

“The city needed to codify its authority over creating outdoor dining in the public way, and specifically in parking spaces,” John Sisson, economic development director for the city, said. “We’ve had a lot of feedback from counsel about, you know, let’s implement this in a way to make this permanent.”

Sisson said the zoning proposal is in response to the April 1 expiration of the outdoor dining emergency authorization, according to a memo from Barney Heath, director of planning and development in the city. 

The committee voted unanimously in favor of the Feb. 13 public hearing date.

As of April 2022, 20 restaurants in Newton had outdoor dining areas, according to the city’s website. Restaurants that would like to add outdoor seating to their business can request an extension of premises from Newton’s Board of License Commissioners on an application portal set up by the city.

Beginning in June 2020, the city entered phase one of Newton Al Fresco, a program that allowed restaurants to create safe seating areas during the COVID-19 pandemic through utilizing jersey barriers, according to a document from the city. The effort, which expanded last year, aimed to revitalize the restaurant industry following curtailed activity due to pandemic restrictions.

Deborah Crossley, chair of the Zoning and Planning Committee and councilor-at-large for Ward 5, said that meeting the April 1 deadline is crucial and questioned whether the amendment should include the changing of zoning ordinances regarding parking spaces.

“We want to move expeditiously because we want to get these restaurants enabled before the [seasonal] deadline,” Crossley said. 

In response, Heath said the discussion surrounding parking is relatively preliminary and requires further analysis.

Similar to Heath, Sisson said that there is still work to do regarding the specific language of the amendment, given how recent the implementation of outdoor dining is in Newton and elsewhere.

“This is a fairly new phenomenon, although it’s very popular, and we still haven’t arrived at best practices in the way of managing outdoor dining as a new government function,” he said. “So over the next year or two we’ll probably have more information.” 

February 7, 2023