Riverhead Town’s initiative to ease the process for restaurants to obtain outdoor dining permits helped eateries cope with the capacity restrictions set by the state as a result the COVID-19 pandemic.
But those approvals expired at the end of December. And the Town Board is hoping to get a jump on next summer by extending the outdoor dining permits for another six months.
The board discussed the issue at Thursday’s work session and agreed informally to extend permits by six months instead of three.
Supervisor Yvette Aquiar said there have been requests from businesses to extend the permits.
Jeff Murphree, the town’s building and planning administrator, said his department worked from home on reviewing applications at a time when towns were mostly closed to the public. This kept them from falling behind in the review of applications, Mr. Murphree said.
“We wanted to get the outdoor dining code out before Memorial Day,” he said.
The town received 41 outdoor dining permit applications, of which 35 were in June.
“Restaurants were hit especially hard last year and continue to be severely impacted,” Mr. Murphree said.
The town waived the permit fee for outdoor dining applications as well, he said.
“Once people found out how quick the process was and how easy it is to submit the application, we got very few complaints,” Ms. Murphree said.
With the cold months here now, other issues are popping up, he said, as the town has received applications for tents, “igloos” and space heaters for outdoor diners.
State regulations limit the time a tent can stay up to 180 days, after which they have to be removed, take down the tent, reapply for a new permit and then put the tent back up, Mr. Murphree said.
The state code does not address “igloos,” the plastic bubble-like structures the outdoor diners can sit in.
There is no snow load or wind load or guidance for securing the structures, he said. There also are ventilation concerns, he said.
“Some restaurants have installed them but we don’t allow them because of fire and ventilation concerns,” Mr. Murphree said. “If you put a space heater in them, then you have some gas issues are well.”
“Having a space heater in there seems a little crazy,” Councilwoman Catherine Kent said.
Board members informally voted to allow a six-month extension of outdoor dining permits, so that restaurants will have plenty of time to prepare for the summer months, and wouldn’t have to reapply after three months.