SUMMIT, NJ - “Balance” was the watchword during a special virtual meeting of the Summit Common Council on June 29. In less than an hour, the Council considered 11 resolutions allowing Summit restaurants to offer outdoor dining in this COVID-19 world. Another 18 applications had been approved previously.
Council President Marjorie Fox explained that applications involving liquor licenses, street closures, or 'parklets' require Council approval to ensure public input. She added that restaurants still need to complete the process through the City clerk’s office and cannot put out tables until they’ve secured their permit.
Barriers to protect 'parklets' and street closures still need to be erected by the City as well.
Mayor Nora Radest described the City’s reaction to this “unprecedented situation” as “a partnership... today, Governor Murphy put on hold indoor dining... There has been an increase, even in our state, of people not socially distancing and not wearing their masks.” After reiterating the rules set forth by Murphy for outdoor dining, she addressed business owners directly. “We need you to help us. We cannot have our police sitting at all the restaurants. It’s incredibly important that you also try to make sure that your patrons are behaving responsibly.”
Fox reminded viewers watching remotely that, on June 23, the Council waived outdoor dining permit fees for restaurants without a liquor license. Those establishments with a liquor license still must pay a license fee to use City property for outdoor dining. Normally that fee is based on the assessed value of the square footage of outdoor space. But since Fox said the current aim is not for the City to make money, but to help businesses, the Council has adopted a new methodology based on the number of seats in the outdoor café.
At an upcoming meeting, Fox said, a general ordinance to apply this new, lower, calculation both retroactively and to upcoming applications will be voted on.
Matthew Dikovics, [co-founder] of Nassau Consulting Group, Maple Street, requested clarification of the new fee. Fox explained that Summit looked at what some other cities were doing, and decided it was fairer to base the fee on the number of seats, just like other cafés. Greg Vartan, Ward 2 Council Member, pointed out that with social distancing the same square footage doesn’t get a business as many tables as it did previously. He further explained the fee is on a sliding scale from $116 for 1-10 seats up to $473 for more than 50 seats.
Heading the agenda was a pair of Law & Labor resolutions moved by Ward 2 Council Member Stephen Bowman. As these strictly dealt with the extension of the liquor license premises, they fall under the purview of the Law & Labor Committee. First up was the expansion for the annual license agreement for sidewalk café expansions for Fiorino Ristorante at 34, 38, 40, 42, and 44 Maple Street. The owner has worked with neighboring businesses to expand by about seven tables. Fox reminded everyone that while Maple Street is closed through the end of August, the sidewalks won’t be available for dining. This resolution permits Fiorino to move back to the sidewalk when the road reopens.
Davin Czukoski, [owner of Robot Revolution] on Maple Street, expressed concern about customers being able to reach his and other businesses on Maple Street, and whether businesses owners had recourse if the situation didn’t work out. Fox assured him that people will still be able to reach businesses, and when the street is closed, the sidewalk will still be open. Council Member at Large Beth Little added that under the sidewalk dining plan, four feet of sidewalk access must still be left for pedestrians to safely pass.
Next up was a similar license expansion for The Office Tavern Grill to the sidewalk in front of the UPS Store at 55 Union Place. Ward 1 Council Member David Naidu inquired whether this would only be in effect when the UPS Store is closed, noting that is a very busy storefront during its hours of operations. Little clarified that the sidewalk dining would be available after 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, after 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays, and all day Sunday; the application was approved with that stipulation.
Council then considered three separate Capital Projects & Community Services resolutions moved by Little for the use of Maple Street by Fiorino Ristorante, Summit House Restaurant and Bar Bacoa, and Roots Steakhouse. These applications also included lease agreements for the expansion of their liquor licenses. Because these involve extending dining onto Maple Street, they fell under the jurisdiction of the Capital Projects committee, which moved the partial closure of Maple Street through August 30 at the last Council meeting. During the Maple Street closures, restaurants using Maple Street for dining won’t be allowed to use the sidewalk for café space.
Fox pointed out that Summit is one of the first places in the state to obtain approvals for a long-term street closure, the result of more than a month’s worth of discussions between the city, the state, and local businesses. Little thanked the mayor for her persistent advocacy with the state Department of Transportation and the governor’s office.
Council then turned its attention to six temporary 'parklet' approval resolutions moved by Little. A 'parklet' is a dining area created from one or more public parking spaces for seasonal use, protected by traffic barriers.
Naidu, referencing the one existing 'parklet' in front of Tito’s and Batavia Café, noted, “This is a massive expansion... From my perspective we’re trying to address the needs of restaurants, but it is kind of an experiment. We need the cooperation of restaurateurs and those who go to these places” in social distancing. Citing the need to evaluate the situation as it evolves, he continued, “There’s nothing written here in stone. If folks aren’t going to be able to maintain social distancing, or the restaurateurs aren’t able to do what is necessary, then we’ll have an opportunity to review and revise and amend if necessary.” He added, “this is a balancing exercise. No single applicant got exactly what they wanted. Everyone got something amended. We have an obligation to balance the overall needs of the downtown, the residents, and making it a safer environment. That’s our job.”
Fox added these applications are an expansion of the applicant restaurants dine-in spaces, as opposed to the original 'parklet' or the Bank Street lot, which may be used for “take-out” from any area restaurant. She also said the Council has made provision for short-term parking spots for curbside pick-ups, and asked all businesses to urge their employees not to use street parking, but to park in the lots and garages instead. Similarly, Little suggested people coming into town for a more than a quick pick-up should use the City’s lots and garages.