BRIDGEWATER, NJ - A number of local establishments will be able to open their doors to outside diners beginning later this month, thanks to a resolution that was just approved unanimously by the Bridgewater Township council.
Township attorney Chris Corsini stated at the council’s virtual meeting June 4 that Gov. Phil Murphy had issued protocols regarding the allowance of outdoor dining/seating at restaurants in New Jersey. The governor’s executive order also permits the limited re-opening of some non-essential retail businesses, also starting on June 15, as part of the state’s Phase Two reopening in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has shuttered most American businesses since mid-March.
The council’s resolution was put to a vote at the meeting even though it did not physically appear on the agenda, as the council is not due to meet again until June 15.
Corsini said he had worked to match the guidelines with township ordinances, to accommodate opening as many restaurants as possible while simultaneously protecting the township and its residents. That includes securing permits for outdoor alcohol consumption.
“It’s mostly procedural,” said Corsini. “We’re pretty satisfied.”
Council vice president Filipe Pedroso said Bridgewater has no power as a township to go beyond the governor, but he believes that the resolution allows restaurants to not only open up, but to maintain a safe establishment outdoors with social distancing.
Corsini said the bulk of the resolution is for restaurants, and that the resolution temporarily relieves site plan obligations.
Council president Howard Norgalis said the resolution will empower the township, and that restaurants will also be allowed to move out onto city-owned properties, such as streets and sidewalks.
“It’s really a win-win for businesses,” said Norgalis. “They surely need a jumpstart.”
Councilman Allen Kurdyla spoke about provisions that come with an approval, including seating layouts and traffic.
Councilman Michael Kirsh said that approving the resolution would be “cutting a degree of red tape,” and that businesses are ready to move forward. He added that he knows the guidelines came through late, but that they have been thorough.
Pedroso inquired about outdoor retail sales for qualifying establishments, and Corsini replied they will be brought back into alignment, to allow outside sales (if desired) upon application. He said he doesn’t know how much traffic such establishments will generate in Bridgewater, as opposed to places like Somerville.
Pedroso then asked about Bridgewater Commons, which, like other indoor malls in New Jersey. has been shuttered for the last few months. Corsini said that is up to the administration.
Councilman Timothy Ring said there is a $75 state fee being charged to establishments to apply for re-opening, but believes there is no similar municipal fee. Corsini said he was not shocked that the state was doing so, although he added that the administration has to approve liquor licenses, and might need to hold a special meeting.
“I have no opinion,” he told the council. “It’s up to you.”
He felt, though, that many businesses will still make applications.
“This is going to help us,” said Kurdyla.
Pedroso spoke of the “horrific” impact COVID-19 has had on local lives and businesses, and said he feels it is time to safely re-open, just before the resolution was approved by all five council members.