By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
VENTNOR – The Board of Commissioners Thursday, June 11 approved a resolution allowing area restaurants to expand their seating capacity to the sidewalks around their properties in compliance with Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order allowing restaurants to provide outdoor dining with limitations starting Monday, June 15.
Commissioner Lance Landgraf said he spoke with many of the city’s restaurateurs, who are seeking guidance on what they can do to increase the number of meals they serve.
The resolution allows outdoor seating in front of the restaurant or adjoining businesses, although restaurant owners would be required to obtain an agreement with the adjacent property owner.
Restaurants will be required to provide the city with a hold-harmless agreement indemnifying the city of any claims and show proof of insurance. Seating arrangements may not impede the pedestrian walkway and must adhere to 6-foot social distancing between tables. All tables and chairs must be brought indoors at the end of the day and service end by 11 p.m.
Restaurants will be required to file an application at the Building Department, showing a sketch of their outdoor dining plan before obtaining the approval of the Zoning Officer and Police and Fire chiefs to ensure public safety.
Vincent LoBianco of Stella on Ventnor Avenue asked if he would be able to erect a tent outside his property and if he could set up tables in the parking lane of Ventnor Avenue.
“We are trying to work out a plan for our reservation-based restaurant,” he said.
Tents could be permitted as long as they do not interfere with pedestrians, Landgraf said.
Maria Gatta of Red Room Café on Dorset Avenue wanted to know if she could close off a portion of Monmouth Avenue and set up tables in the street.
Landgraf said closing streets is not off the table. However, concrete Jersey barriers would be required to protect diners. Because Ventnor and Dorset avenues are county roads, the county would need hold harmless agreements as well. Although the city can apply for county street closures for one-day events, such as the Christmas Parade and Spring Block Party, it cannot close bus routes on a continuing basis.
“Ventnor and Dorset avenues are a no-go,” Landgraf said. “It’s not something they would entertain on a recurring basis, which is what the restaurants are looking for. We can look at closing a portion of the side streets, but we’re not there yet,” he said.
Mayor Beth Holtzman said she has been urging the governor’s office to allow indoor seating as soon as possible because the summer season is already here.
Holtzman said in a normal year, July 4 weekend signals the official start of the 100 days of summer, but this year, due to the coronavirus epidemic, the season started early. Because children are not in school and learning is being done remotely, many part-time homeowners arrived early in March and April.
“We are not in the pre-season. Our season is now,” she said, noting the governor’s mindset is summer will start July 4. “I’m pushing for indoor seating sooner rather than later.”
Landgraf said after surveying about 30 restaurant owners, their main concern was about losing parking spaces, especially those restaurants that focus on take out. They need parking for grab and go meals, he said.
“When people say close the streets, it’s not that easy,” Holtzman said. We will do whatever we can with the powers we have.”
After speaking with public safety officials, “there may be a couple options that might work,” Landgraf said.
Other options could include establishing communal outdoor dining areas, such as at the Newport Avenue public parking lot adjacent to the central business district, which is currently undergoing renovations. Striping and wheel stops will be installed this week. Lighting has yet to be installed there, which is required for the property to be used as a parking lot or as a dining area after dark.
Customers could call in their order to a local restaurant and have it delivered to the parking lot, which could be equipped with picnic tables, he said.
“It was pretty outside the box thinking on the part of our restaurateurs,” he said.
Landgraf said the city is also considering having weekly outdoor tasting events in public spaces were all the restaurants could participate.
Commissioner Tim Kriebel said the city could consider installing parklets that take up one or two parking spaces that can be used for outdoor dining.
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