EAST GREENWICH—The town council voted Monday to continue with readings regarding proposed changes to town ordinances that would help the council extend parking and alcohol serving rules similarly to how the current executive order regarding such matters operates.
“This is a second reading of two ordinances related to changes which are intended to assist our Main Street businesses,” said council president Mark Schwager. “Included in our packet is a resolution from our planning board.”
“The planning board favorably recommends the revisions to the council,” Schwager added.
The proposed ordinance pertain to the serving of alcoholic beverages and the expansion of outdoor seating into areas normally reserved for off-street parking. Under town manager Andrew Nota’s current COVID-19 executive order, parking requirements may be suspended in whole or in part for restaurants and retailers in connection with an authorized temporary expansion of a service area. Nota explained the rationale behind the initial order.
“The governor was implementing various executive orders at a very fast pace,” Nota said, “and there was really no alternative, once things settled shortly after, but to consider these types of adjustments.”
Businesses, particularly restaurants, had to make investments to adapt to the governor’s policies, including the purchasing of outdoor seating and disposable menus and dining ware. These costs and the normal rules regarding outdoor seating effectively prohibited businesses from reopening in many cases, so the manager allowed them to use an application to pursue additional seating which could be approved in a matter of days rather than months. The new ordinances would help to give the town similar options in the future.
“We have the ability to protect those businesses and their interests, at least through the season,” Nota said.
“Our purpose was to let people know that, for this outdoor season, they can have some comfort that it’s going to last,” said town solicitor Andrew Teitz. “Come November we’ll look at it to tie in with the renewal of regular licenses. It will be getting much more cold and difficult to be outside by then anyways.”
For the current season, ranging through November, businesses will be able to apply to expand their outdoor presence as well as food and alcoholic services in a manner that will be relatively unobtrusive, as they are at a limited capacity already, and thus not fully implementing their allotted parking areas.
The council did not, however, address how the proposed ordinance would affect the state of parking in town in the long term. Parking has been a hot-button issue in recent years, and has been made all the more relevant by the fact that the town’s decreased budget this year has meant the postponement of a town-wide parking study until next summer. It is currently unclear under what circumstance the council would disallow an application for suspension of the parking requirements.