NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – The Covid-19 lockdowns have put many small businesses in a chokehold. Now the Borough Council is considering easing outdoor dining operations for restaurants. Councilman Peter DeSarno introduced the idea at the Tuesday, May 26 Zoom meeting.
DeSarno noted that expanded outdoor dining could be permitted on a temporary basis once allowed by the state. The purpose of relaxing the rules is to allow restaurants to provide dining options while patrons practice social distancing, it is not intended to expand capacity, he said.
Councilwoman Michele Matsikoudis explained that the idea would allow restaurants to continue operating. She noted that the restaurants would have to consult their landlords and neighbors about the expanding seating area as some parking spots would be used for tables. She pointed out the all patrons must be kept safe and healthy.
Council President Robert Robinson said that the plan is reasonable and that the borough “prefers to say ‘yes’” in order to get the businesses over the hump. He noted that the restaurants would not need to go through a formal application, just provide a plan to the borough.
Mayor Al Morgan noted that the Police and Fire Departments should also be consulted in order to ensure that public safety is not compromised because of expanded restaurant seating. “It is our responsibility to help out our businesses,” he said, but added that the temporary permit should have a “sunset clause.”
Borough Attorney Paul Rizzo pointed out that the borough has “no standards” for allowing expanded restaurant seating. He suggested “at a minimum” a resolution to be approved by the council.
Furthermore, the council discussed outdoor exercise options for local gyms. Morgan noted that a yoga studio has requested to host outdoor classes. Councilwoman Nadine Geoffroy clarified that the yoga studio has hosted outdoor classes in previous years as well. Morgan noted that other gyms may also want to hold outdoor classes. Councilman Robert Munoz cautioned of potential liability issues if events are held on public property.