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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Wallingford council looks at new rules for outdoor dining

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday August 22, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2235

WALLINGFORD — Town councilors will consider changes to an outdoor dining ordinance that could give them the power to approve or deny sidewalk seating for certain businesses.

Only restaurants interested in serving alcohol in an outdoor sidewalk dining space need to apply to the Town Council for permission, according to an ordinance passed in 2004. If the restaurant wants the outdoor dining space that takes up part of a public sidewalk but won’t serve alcohol, it doesn’t need to go before the council.

But a resident’s concern has caused the council to re-examine the ordinance, which it will do at a special Ordinance Committee meeting Thursday night.

According to Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, who co-chairs the Ordinance Committee with fellow Republican Vincent Cervoni, someone told him that an establishment was not complying with the regulations set out in the ordinance for its sidewalk patio. A closer look at the ordinance, Fishbein said, led him to see that it only covered restaurants serving alcohol, and the business in question was not. Neither councilor would reveal the name of the business that had been the source of complaint. “The way the ordinance is drafted, it can be construed to only apply to those establishments that sell alcohol — which is an issue,” Fishbein said. “I think the intent to a certain extent is public safety.” Fishbein said having outdoor spaces that don’t follow town guidelines for size can be a hazard for pedestrians.

“I’m not looking to restrain trade, but there’s ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements for sidewalks,” Fishbein said.

Several businesses downtown have outdoor seating, including Gaetano’s Tavern on Main, Archie Moore’s, Half Moon Coffee and Grill Cafe and Mr. D’s cafe and bakery, all on North Main Street.

Neither Half Moon nor Mr. D’s serves alcohol, though Half Moon does allow guests to bring their own alcohol. Both could be affected by an ordinance change that regulates outdoor seating for all businesses. Owners of those establishments could be reached by phone Tuesday.

Gaetano’s co-owner Debbie Pacileo said her business brought the issue up to the council years ago, when the restaurant wanted to serve alcohol in its sidewalk space. The request was approved. Today, she said, most summer nights the patio is completely booked.

“People love it; it’s so nice for the town, too,” Pacieleo said. “Uptown has really blossomed since this came into effect.”

Among several requirements, the ordinance says that the sidewalk spaces must have a sturdy rail or other divider separating the section from the rest of the sidewalk, and that the space be accessible only through the restaurant and not from the outside.

The applicant also has to submit a drawing of the space, including tables and chairs and how they are arranged, as well as a certificate of insurance that includes the town as an “additional insured party.” It requires the certificate to be a minimum of $2 million for damage or injury related to the business use of the sidewalk. It also has to leave enough space to allow wheelchairs and other supportive devices for those in need, in line with ADA standards.

Cervoni said he was not convinced that the ordinance needs to be changed.

“I thought it was interesting that they chose to regulate outdoor dining based on whether or not they were serving alcohol,” Cervoni said of reading the document. “While I find that interesting, I get the point. While I want to hear what the complainant has to say, I don’t see the need to further regulate, necessarily.”

He said he thought issues with particular businesses could be addressed directly with a small business owner.

Fishbein said he’d like to discuss other changes to the ordinance, saying he’d like to make it a provision that businesses reapply each year for approval, while now there’s no expiration date on approvals. He said that since insurance has to be renewed annually, this would allow businesses to submit new insurance certificates each year.

In another issue, the committee will discuss revisions to its open burn rules Thursday. Last year, it approved an ordinance that made burning in fire pits and commercial outdoor chimineas legal, with certain restrictions. This year, the Fire Department is asking to revise those rules to add that open burning must stop from midnight to 6 a.m., residents have to have the means to extinguish the fire available at the site, and that it has to be attended at all times.

Fire Marshal Carmen Rao said the recommendations were made to the department by residents. One was tired of their neighbors leaving their fire smoking the next day.

“It’s to help people to be a little bit safer, give them some guidance,” Rao said.


Photo by Dave Zajac / Courtesy of the Record-Journal

Above: Patrons of Archie Moore’s bar and restaurant relax across North Main Street.

Photo by Dave Zajac / Courtesy of the Record-Journal

Above: Bartender Tarry Radnoczi talks with customer Debbie Gravell, right, who opted for outdoor dining to celebrate her 59th birthday with her husband, Thirl, on Tuesday at Gaetano’s Tavern on Main in Wallingford.

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