MERIDEN — The city this week approved more permanent changes to the rules on outdoor dining in commercial areas.
The petition to change the rules originated in the city’s planning department in response to the governor’s executive order allowing outdoor dining in addition to takeout.
The new changes will allow al fresco dining to continue in commercial districts and the city’s transit-oriented district when the executive order ends.
The planning office sought more flexibility on the size of the outdoor area, which previously had been limited to no more than 50 percent of the dining area. The change also eliminates wording that the outdoor area should be adjacent to the main building, and loosens restrictions on parking. There can be no more than five tables placed six feet apart to seat fewer than 20 patrons. Bars without food licenses cannot serve outdoors and live music will require a special exception.
“We have revised this in lieu of the COVID-19 crisis,” said City Planner Renata Bertotti. “Restaurants need regulations that are a little bit relaxed. It is a good amendment.”
The executive order shuttered bars and restaurants statewide in mid-March to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which created hardship for owners and employees. On May 20, Gov. Ned Lamont allowed food establishments to open their doors to al fresco dining only with certain restrictions and asked cities and towns to temporarily loosen their zoning requirements.
Local revisions also reduce the application timeframe for outdoor dining to less than 10 days, which will now stand after the executive order ends.
Members of the public questioned whether the outdoor establishments would require fire inspections and were told they do not unless a tent is larger than 70 square feet. They also questioned smoking on the premises, which is an issue addressed by the local Department of Health and Human Services, not zoning. Possible use of city-owned parks and parklets for outdoor dining is also being looked at, Bertotti said.
The proposal was supported by the Midstate Chamber of Commerce and the Meriden Economic Development Corp.
“This action will give some certainty to our businesses that they will be allowed to operate,” MEDCO President Thomas Welsh stated in a letter to the committee.