Manager Theresa Novelli presents the menu at The Lot next to Tomatoe’s Restaurant in Margate, which opened last summer during the COVID-19 pandemic.


MARGATE – The day before Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation that will expand opportunities for outdoor dining, Margate Commissioner of Public Safety John Amodeo said the city is investigating revising local ordinances to allow outdoor dining on a permanent basis.

New Jersey Senate Bill 3340, which was co-sponsored by Atlantic County Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo, provides the framework for municipalities to allow restaurants, bars, distilleries, and breweries to utilize outdoor spaces or public sidewalks as extensions of their business premises. Many municipalities across the state have been taking these steps since Murphy authorized outdoor dining in June 2020.

“As we weather the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are continually trying to find new and innovative ways to aid our state’s business community while not sacrificing our public health,” Murphy said Friday, Feb. 5 after signing the bill into law. “This bill will give our restaurants more certainty for the future so they can once again lean into the outdoor expansions we allowed this past summer to help recoup losses and strengthen their businesses and the jobs they support.”

The bill extends the effective period of permits issued under an ABC special ruling made last summer that allowed licensees to expand the premises where they can serve alcoholic beverages to include outdoor spaces. Restaurants will now be able to maintain the permit through Nov. 30, 2022, or the date at which indoor dining returns to full capacity at restaurants.

In his signing statement, Murphy said the extension will be automatic for all permitholders.

The bill also establishes protocols for municipalities to review and approve outdoor space expansion requests by restaurants without liquor licenses and those with liquor licenses that have not previously obtained expansion permits.

On Thursday, Feb. 4, Amodeo said he met with Margate Business Association President Ed Berger, who sent a request to business owners asking how they would like to proceed with operations after the pandemic subsides.

The issue is being discussed with Police Chief Matthew Hankinson to determine how to safely allow outdoor dining on a permanent basis.

Amodeo said the city would “modernize” its ordinances to include outdoor dining and “keep Margate City vibrant.”

The legislation also authorizes the ABC to create a seasonal farm market permit to allow a holder of a limited brewery license, restricted brewery license, craft distillery license, plenary winery license, farm winery license, or cidery and meadery license to sell any of the licensee’s products in original containers at a seasonal farm market for off-premises consumption. The permit could be a daily or annual permit.

NJ Sen. Vin Gopal, who sponsored the legislation said, “After suffering so much loss in the past year due to the pandemic, this will greatly enhance prospects for these businesses, especially as we approach the coming season on the Jersey Shore.”

In a joint statement with other Assembly members who supported the Senate bill, Mazzeo said outdoor dining has been “a lifeblood” for businesses trying to stay afloat during the pandemic.

“From outdoor dining in parking lots to shopping under canopies, businesses have found creative ways to serve their patrons during this public health crisis. While the struggles of restaurants and retailers have been largely documented, commercial farms and farmers markets have also suffered because of the coronavirus. All have needed to adapt and rise to this unprecedented challenge. This new law protects public health and enables local businesses and municipalities flexibility, while at the same time helps our economy continue to recover. By working together, we were able to find a helpful solution to a problem that was originally perceived to be insurmountable,” they said.

“As we move forward past the pandemic, this will allow our restaurants to continue to operate and offer more options for our guests,” said Marilou Halvorsen, president and CEO of the NJ Restaurant and Hospitality Association.

Earlier this week, Murphy expanded capacity limits for indoor dining to 35% from 25% and lifted the statewide mandated 10 p.m. closing time for indoor service.

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Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.