Outdoor dining in downtown Riverhead will soon become permanent, officials said at Thursday’s work session.
The board plans to schedule a public hearing on a code amendment that would allow the outdoor dining experience that began during the onset of the pandemic to become permanent. The next Town Board meeting when the hearing can be scheduled is Sept. 8.
In July, the Town Board approved an extension of the outdoor dining through Sept. 30 and officials said at the time they hoped to make it permanent.
“We want the restaurants to be ready and know during the fall they can continue with their enhanced dining possibilities,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said Thursday.
Jefferson Murphree, the town’s building and planning administrator, outlined some specifics of the proposed amendment, and Chamber president Bob Kern and Riverhead BID executive director Kristy Verity both spoke about the positive effects the outdoor dining has had on downtown businesses.
Speaking about the effort that went into the proposed change, Mr. Murphree joked that the “U.S. Constitution took less time to draft than it did to draft this code amendment.”
Part of the change would be to establish the town fire marshal’s office as responsible for granting permits, rather than the Town Board, he said. He said the fire marshal’s office could use assistance with the added clerical work.
“They desperately need the secretarial support to implement this,” he said. “Not only this legislation, but all the rest of their paperwork. They’re out in the field 75-80% of the day. There’s a tremendous amount of data input that has to go on as part of that and this is going to add to that.”
Restaurants would need to apply on an annual basis for a permit so inspections can be done, he added. He recommended an application fee of $150, an increase from the current $25, as the new application would be 10 pages. The town initially allowed restaurants to set up outdoor dining without a fee to help the businesses when state restrictions limited indoor dining.
He recommended the hours for outdoor dining to be anytime from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The current code allows restaurants to expand their setups 10 feet from the building, which Mr. Murphree said “consumes a lot of the sidewalk area.”
He said it can be done in six feet, leaving space for people to walk around tables without going into the street.
The code currently prohibits any attachments to a building, but he said he believes retractable awnings “would be acceptable and that’s currently recommend as part of the Pattern Book.”
The change does not apply to areas in town such as along Sound Avenue or Route 58.
“There’s no way to recoup the losses from this pandemic,” said Mr. Kern, who’s running in November for a town council position. “Allowing this to be permanent, I think is incredibly significant.”
Councilwoman Catherine Kent, who’s running for town supervisor, said the outdoor dining was one good thing to come out of the pandemic.
“I agree it’s really nice for the town,” she said. “I think people enjoy being outside and I think it’s been good for restaurants and to help get them going.”
Councilman Ken Rothwell also said he’d like restaurants to have “peace of mind” that the setup will continue.