HUDSON — Restaurants can now go through a quicker process to secure a permit that will allow them to have outdoor dining, while retail businesses can follow the same procedure so they can have outdoor sales.
City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a temporary permit program to allow restaurants and retail establishments to conduct business outdoors on their private property through Oct. 15. This is another step taken by the city to help businesses navigate the economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Council in early June approved legislation whereby downtown restaurants can apply for a license agreement to host outdoor patio dining on public rights of way. City spokesperson Jody Roberts said that measure only dealt with outdoor dining on public property such as the sidewalks along First and Main. It did not allow outdoor dining areas to be set up on private property, nor did it allow retail establishments to have sidewalk sales.
Roberts noted the city has provisions that a restaurant can follow to gain permission for outdoor dining on private land, but said it’s "a lengthy process."
The resolution adopted by council Tuesday gives businesses a quicker way to acquire permits to temporarily have outdoor dining or outdoor sidewalk sales, according to Roberts. She added businesses would have to apply for a permit through the city’s community development department and City Manager Jane Howington would issue the permits.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Howington said her administration wants to help businesses by removing "as many impediments as possible to help them bring back customers."
"We’re trying to at least temporarily eliminate the hurdles that they would have to through [to have outdoor dining or outdoor sales]," said Howington.
After council approved outdoor dining on downtown public property in early June, Scott Kuebler, an owner of North End on Darrow Road, said he contacted city officials to see what could be done to allow non-downtown restaurants such as his to offer outdoor dining. Kuebler said he was "pretty disappointed" when he was initially told he would have to follow an already established procedure of submitting a plan to the Board of Zoning and Building Appeals, a process he said could "take months."
After reaching out to some council members to voice his concerns, Kuebler said Howington visited him at North End to say her administration was working to address the situation.
"I’m happy that Jane took time out of her day to come and see me and say she had a creative solution," said Kuebler.
Since his customers are "not that comfortable with being inside [the establishment]," Kuebler said he was "looking forward" to seeing how setting up outdoor tables impacts North End’s business.
When North End was offering to-go food, retail wine and beer sales during the early time frame of COVID-19 shutdowns, Kuebler said "we were really pleased by the support of the customers."
North End reopened to in-house customers in early June, and Kuebler said business has "been a little rough" since then. He added he hoped that offering outdoor dining would "breathe some life into what we’re doing."
Art Shibley, owner of Yours Truly on Main Street, said his business has had outdoor dining for more than 20 years. Shibley observed his customers right now "seem to feel safer" dining outside rather than inside his establishment. Two of the tables that are typically on the patio have been moved to a grassy area on the property, and are spaced apart. The remaining tables on the patio are spaced apart more.
"Our business has dropped off considerably, but we can tell it’s on its way back," stated Shibley.
Support for outdoor drinking area
Council on June 16 hosted a virtual public hearing on a proposal to create a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA). If approved by council, the program would allow patrons to purchase alcoholic beverages at existing restaurants in a designated district and drink them while walking through the district.
Residents could email comments to the clerk of council — who then read them at the public hearing — or they could request to speak during the virtual hearing.
Comments from three residents who said they favored DORA were emailed to, and read by Clerk of Council Elizabeth Slagle, on June 16.
Resident Keith Bagarus wrote that he was "100% in favor" of the city establishing the DORA.
"This will be great for the local businesses," wrote Bagarus. "It will bring us together at a much needed time and help strengthen our community and local economy."
Bagarus’ wife, Joanne, sent an email in which she said they supported setting up the DORA because they believed "it will support local businesses in their time of need."
Resident Brad Howard also shared his support for the DORA in an email.
No comments were given in opposition to the proposal and no residents requested to speak during the virtual public hearing.
The legislation to create the DORA was given a second reading on June 16 and the third reading is slated for July 7, which is when council could vote to form the special refreshment area.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.