On March 30th, the State Senate the State Senate voted 34-0 to approve legislation that will extend outdoor dining activity at restaurants through March 31, 2022. The legislation, which has no fiscal impact, establishes a process by which local zoning officials can allow or expand outdoor dining at restaurants. It also specifies that any outdoor dining activity previously authorized by executive order will be approved though March 31, 2022. State Senator James Maroney (D-Milford) voted in favor of the outdoor dining extension. The bill now heads to the Governor’s office to be signed into law.
“Outdoor dining has proven to be very popular with both diners and restaurant owners,” said Sen. Maroney. “Further expansion of outdoor food service will allow for the continuation of customers to go to a restaurant and feel safe during their dining experience. It helps restaurants regain business and helps make up for profits lost during the pandemic.”
The legislation, amended last week during its passage in the House, substitutes House Bill 6610, “An Act Concerning The Provision of Outdoor Food and Beverage Service By Restaurants”. Under its language, if adopted, zoning or planning officials would have the power to expand or permit outdoor activities for restaurants to respond to or provide economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Any permit for outdoor eating would not require significant paperwork such as site surveys or traffic studies to expedite the approval process outside of information that could impact public health, safety or the environment. Any applications filed would be responded to within ten days of receipt, and any appeals process after a potential rejection would need to be filed within a week.
Notably, municipalities wishing to permanently expand the availability of outdoor dining and retail activity would be allowed to expedite permanent changes to their zoning rules. In the future, the legislation could be expanded to enable permanent expanded outdoor dining in its current state. Otherwise, the legislation holds preexisting standards for outdoor activities, such as specific spacing and zoning for outdoor dining that does not interfere with local pathways and are subject to reasonable standards, such as compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
As the COVID-19 pandemic struck in spring 2020, restaurants struggled under limitations imposed on their businesses by public safety standards. Expansion of outdoor dining led to increased safety and comfort for diners, leading to benefits for the businesses adopting them. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control found patients who reported dining inside a restaurant were 2.4 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 during the early months of the pandemic.