Metro, Newton

Newton Business Owners Support Permanent Seasonal Outdoor Dining Amendment During Public Hearing

Newton business owners supported making seasonal outdoor dining permanent in Newton  during the public comment period of the Zoning and Planning Committee meeting Monday night.

“The outdoor space is very helpful to business now, and it really does add to the guest experience,” David Punch, owner of several restaurants in Newton Centre, including Sycamore and Little Big Diner, said. “Guests really like it, the community really likes it, I’ve gotten an overwhelming amount of support for it.”

On Feb. 7, the committee debated an amendment to Newton’s zoning ordinances proposed by the city that would make seasonal outdoor dining a permanent fixture within Newton.

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 utilize jersey barriers to create safe seating areas during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a restaurant recovery guide released by the city. The effort, which expanded last year, aimed to revitalize the restaurant industry following pandemic restrictions.

Victoria Danberg, Ward 6 councilor-at-large and vice chair of the Zoning and Planning Committee, said she supports outdoor dining but hopes that the installments become more aesthetically pleasing as the city embraces outdoor dining.“I would really like to see something other than jersey barriers around our restaurants,” Danberg said. 

Punch said he prefers the jersey barriers from a logistical standpoint, and that there is a precedent to making the barriers look better on the street.

“I remember during the pandemic—late 2020 or early 2021, I can’t remember—some of the community members were able to paint them,” he said. 

John Driscoll, owner of Buttonwood—a restaurant in Newton Highlands—said his business appreciates the expansion of outdoor dining and has committed to examining ways to improve the way the outdoor dining area looks.

“We are looking at—because we’re making the investment, and if this were to pass—upgrading the furniture outside,” Driscoll said. “Last year we did spend some money bringing flowerpots, and things like that to make the barrier look better.”

Greg Reibman, president of the Charles River Regional Chamber, said passing this amendment will help local businesses maximize economic opportunity.

“This is so vital to the economic vitality of our businesses and our villages,” Reibman said “Thank you, we urge your support on this so we can move this forward and our restaurants can plan for the spring dining season.”

February 15, 2023

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