Members of the Police Commission voted unanimously this month to allow restaurants to keep their altered outdoor dining set-ups—where tables are pushed out onto sidewalks and new pedestrian access ways are created in the street—through year’s end.
Created in May and extended periodically since then, the temporary sidewalk and parking configurations on Main, Elm and Forest Streets are designed to give additional outdoor dining space to restaurants that have been under changing capacity restrictions since the onset of COVID-19 virus. (Currently, under the governor’s order, they’re allowed no more than 50% capacity total between indoor and outdoor dining.)
Police Commission Chair Paul Foley, Secretary Jim McLaughlin and member Shekaiba Bennett voted 3-0 in favor of the extension during the Nov. 18 meeting, held via videoconference.
Chef Luke Venner of elm restaurant, a guest at the meeting, said “anything helps at this point for us.”
“I think we had looked into the idea of having some sort of enclosure but at this point in the game I don’t know if that makes sense,” he said. “And obviously that’s not something that could be removed if there was snow so I don’t think that fits into the overall plan. But if we were able to have even a couple of tables on one or two nice days if they happen, it all makes a difference, especially in the fourth quarter when we are trying to capture the revenue we need to limp through January, February and March. Every little bit matters.”
About 12 restaurants benefit from the current setup, where restaurants use the sidewalk for tables and large barricades cordon off new pedestrian access ways in the street. The downtown has lost a total of about 25 spaces as a result of the configuration.
Under the extension approved by the Commission, any restaurant that fails to clear its sidewalk of tables and chairs as requested by the town would have its permit for additional outdoor dining revoked.
Commissioners asked who is issuing notifications to restaurants (a group of officials from the town and New Canaan Chamber of Commerce) and whether workers in the New Canaan Department of Public Works would have time in the event of snow to remove the barricades for plowing (yes).
The Chamber’s executive director, Laura Budd, said from the organization’s perspective the outdoor dining “is helpful for the whole downtown ecosystem, because it brings so many people into town.”
“So we would like to see it definitely go through the 31st and then we can see what happens I think everyone wants a safe environment in terms of COVID and in terms of snow,” she said. “And so we very much support continuing to allow these 12 restaurants to serve outdoors for the hearty souls. And we want to make an effort to let people know now to interact with these restaurants, bring your own blanket. All that stuff. We feel it’s very important for the whole downtown ecosystem.”
New Canaan Health Director Jenn Eielson noted that the allowances for outdoor dining are “all subject to change” amid the pandemic and related restrictions that come down from the state.
“The good part about this is if the governor does change and we go to ‘lockdown 1.2′ or whatever he wants to call it, and we have to switch back to curbside, then we do have to be able to make that adjustment, too, to make sure that we don’t impede them, and get the barriers out,” she said.