WEST HARTFORD — A proposed measure would let West Hartford’s restaurants and retail establishments have expanded outdoor offerings through the year’s end, in case emergency rules put in place during the pandemic don't continue.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s emergency powers — which “temporarily suspend(ed) and modif(ied) certain permitting and approval processes for restaurant and retail establishments,” per the proposed ordinance — provided for more outdoor dining possibilities in the state. But those powers are currently set to end April 20.
“We are hearing there’s probably a strong possibility that the rules that the state — either the governor, or potentially the legislature — will continue those rules through 2021,” town manager Matt Hart said in a town council meeting last week. “But in the event that that does not happen, we want to be prepared here in West Hartford and at the local level.”
The local measure, a temporary one ending Dec. 31, is scheduled for a public hearing next month. The proposal covers “primarily the zoning component of expanding outdoor retail, including outdoor dining and commerce,” Mayor Shari Cantor said March 4, effectively taking “the governor’s executive order for the outdoor dining component and carrying it forward” given the expected April expiration date.
Amid the pandemic, West Hartford “had a pretty expansive program” for outdoor dining and retail, Hart said. The town permitted “restaurants and retailers to expand into sidewalks and roadways, our public right-of-way,” he said.
Those businesses and the town worked together, resulting in “some outdoor dining areas along LaSalle, Farmington Avenue and a portion of South Main, and in Blue Back Square as well,” Hart said. “And really, it was a tremendous experience here in West Hartford last summer.”
Cantor said March 4 that having expansions for outdoor dining in place during the pandemic “was such a success” within the town.
“We’re really thrilled to be able to have this way of moving it forward, signaling to our businesses that this is going to happen, no matter what happens at the state level. You know that we’re committed to this for this next season,” Cantor said this month.
Even with the governor’s recent announcement that capacity limits would soon be taken off certain businesses, including restaurants and retail, Cantor said March 4 that, with spacing factored in, “restaurants are still at about half capacity. So they need that outdoor dining space to be able to extend and be able to have the customer base that they need to thrive, so we think it’s really important.”
Following a motion at a council meeting last week, the measure will go to the Town Plan and Zoning Commission, as well as the Capitol Region Council of Governments. The proposal is also subject to a public hearing, which is currently scheduled for April.
The current proposed ordinance would only last through Dec. 31, but there’s potential for “a permanent ordinance expanding outdoor dining and retail options,” according to the document. Under the proposed measure, Hart would be tasked with bringing forth a suggestion to town council members by Oct. 1.