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Riverhead Town will allow outdoor dining for restaurants

Riverhead officials are hoping that outdoor seating and even tents can help revive some of downtown’s restaurants, which have been financially hurt due to a state-ordered prohibition on indoor dining that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The plan, which officials expect to discuss again Thursday, can’t be implemented for at least two weeks, however. 

The state has given Long Island a green light for curbside retail in Phase 1 of four phases of reopening allowed by the state. But sit-down restaurants won’t get approval until Phase 3, which isn’t expected to occur until later in June, officials said. 

“The two-week waiting time between phases is going to kill people,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said. 

“We’re trying to help out restaurants any way we can,” said Jeff Murphree, the town’s building and planning administrator. “They really have been hurt through this whole process.” 

The temporary outdoor dining legislation proposed by the town, in conjunction with the Business Improvement District Management Association and the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, “will allow for restaurants to provide outside dining while maintaining all social distance protocols as mandated by the CDC and the state Department of Health,” according to Supervisor Yvette Aguiar.

Only registered places of assembly that have a valid use permit and an up to date public assembly license will be considered for temporary outdoor restaurant use. Applications will be available on the town’s website, as well as the BIDMA and Chamber of Commerce sites, and must be submitted to the town building department. 

The town also proposes to require such applications to be submitted online and town officials said they will be fast-tracked. Officials also said the town will likely waive any building department fees for outdoor seating applications.

Once Phase 3 kicks in, restaurants will only be able to operate at 50% of their prior maximum occupancy under new state regulations. However, officials believe that the outside seating will help make up for that loss, allowing restaurants to operate at closer to full capacity. 

Outdoor tables and chairs must be removed by 10 p.m. under the current proposal, although officials discussed eliminating that requirement. 

The tables will need to be spaced seven feet apart, according to the proposal. Also being proposed is a plan to allow tents in parking lots with lighting in case of bad weather. 

BIDMA and the Chamber of Commerce also are proposing allowing outside sites for performances, such as drive-in movies. 

Councilwoman Catherine Kent said the town might want to hire an additional part-time fire marshal to review outdoor seating applications and inspect the temporary locations. 

Ms. Giglio agreed. “People have been chomping at the bit to get back to construction,” she said. “We’re going to be inundated.”