P&Z Revised Outdoor Dining Reg Adds Teeth: Violations Risk Immediate Closure

An application from Town of Greenwich for a zoning text amendment in Sec. 6-100, regarding requirements for seasonal (April 1 to Nov 20) outdoor dining was discussed and approved in a unanimous vote of the Planning & Zoning commission.

Outdoor dining regs were revised over the last two years to create a way for people to stay outdoors and with appropriate social distance during the pandemic. The Board of Selectmen created street dining in parking spaces on Greenwich Ave known as “nodes,” and the P&Z commission, in coordination with the State government, adjusted the dining regs to allow seating inside those nodes.

At a public workshop in July, there were complaints about rats, unattractive jersey barrier nodes, and the loss of parking given there are 408 spaces on Greenwich Avenue and the nodes displace 65 of them.

Outdoor dining node on Greenwich Avenue features tables, chairs, umbrellas, planters, and space heaters.
Empty nodes on Nov 21, 2022 ready for removal.
Parking space in front of 16 Greenwich Ave is unusable because a node for La Taqueria at 10 Greenwich Ave cuts into it.

At an outdoor dining workshop in September, the commission made clear the Board of Selectmen can vote to continue the nodes for street dining, and it was anticipated they will do so, but the P&Z commission determines what is allowed inside them.

At that workshop P&Z director Katie DeLuca said, townwide 75 out of 96 restaurants with outdoor dining were in violation, mostly with increased number of seats, and 21 have outdoor dining despite not having received approval or even submitting an application.

Back in July, there were complaints from the public about the nodes being unattractive, jammed up traffic when a delivery truck parks along a node, rats and bugs, and the inherent unfairness to merchants due to the lost parking.

During Tuesday night’s discussion P&Z chair Margarita Alban noted that the commission had “moved heaven and earth” to allow outdoor dining during the pandemic.

In a survey conducted last summer, respondents overall welcomed outdoor dining.

However, there were also many complaints about significant increase in rats and cockroaches, loud music that has drowned out fire alarms, ADA concerns, and safety on Greenwich Ave due to the increase of traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian.

Also, a parking study also done before and during the 2022 outdoor dining season, which showed that parking was saturated in the downtown.

Now that the public health crisis has subsided, P&Z staff created the text amendment to revert to the pre-pandemic seating allowances for outdoor dining.

Empty node ready to be removed at the end of the season, Nov 21, 2022.

Highlights of the amended regulation include a restriction on amplified sound and music, language about not obstructing sidewalks, and a much greater emphasis on handicap accessibility.

With the complaints in mind, there is language about harsh punishments for violations.

The language was approved to say: “Any restaurant found to be in violation within a given outdoor dining season is subject to immediate closure of the outdoor dining area and shall be ineligible to reapply for such approval of the outdoor dining area during the following outdoor dining season.”

The commissioners had a discussion about how aggressive to be about enforcement.

“I think when you start a new rule like this, you don’t want to be soft in your enforcement abilities you give yourself,” said commissioner Bob Barolak. “You leave yourself more room to get into trouble and be considered inconsistent if you’re not really clear. I’d keep the enforcement stronger.”

“We’re not talking about leaving some scraps of food on the floor. We’re talking about Bill Marr in the building department having a meltdown because there are exposed wires all over the ground, and they’re a tripping hazard, and they’re a fire hazard,” Alban said. “Yes, there’s a ton of violations, but our focus and our first job is health and safety. Internally we would be smart not to be frivolous about how we close someone’s outdoor dining.”

“You go against the most egregious thing first. Then you work your way down through the pyramid until folks understand that we mean it,” Alban said.

Summary of Regulation with Text Amendment (The precise language is available here).

In the case of small-scale projects for three tables with fewer than 12 seats the applicant can work with P&Z staff instead of the commission as long as conditions are met and any requisite insurance must be provided as mandated by the Town. Other applicants must submit site plan applications to the P&Z commission.

The text amendment includes this language about consequences: “Any restaurant found to be in violation within a given outdoor dining season is subject to immediate closure and shall be ineligible to reapply for such approval during the following outdoor dining season.”

The commission noted they had received many complaints about outdoor dining.

In particular numerous residents in the Greenwich Avenue area said they had difficulty sleeping at night due to loud amplified music.

Outdoor dining node at La Taqueria at 10 Greenwich Ave.

• For all applications, the total number of indoor and outdoor seats cannot exceed the number approved for the restaurant. (This means that with the addition of seats outdoors, indoor seating must decrease by the same number of seats.)

• Outdoor dining has to accommodate disabled patrons in accordance with all applicable laws.

• Outdoor dining cannot interfere with public, state or municipal use of any public street, sidewalk or property.

• Outdoor dining on private property must be entirely on contiguous land owned or leased by the applicant and adequate liability insurance must be provided.

• No pass-through or take-out windows except at recreational facilities or places like concession stand at the town beach where the window is an amenity for patrons and not a destination.

• No PA systems or amplified sound.

• Patrons must be seated at tables. No bar service allowed in outdoor areas whether patrons are standing or seated at stools.

• Lighting is limited to the minimum level necessary. No LED’s. No flashing or blinking lights.

• Outdoor dining areas have to be kept clear of litter, food scraps or soiled dishes and utensils at all times. Sidewalks and floors have to be swept at least once a day and cleaned of greases, oils and stains monthly. Spills have to cleaned up immediately and sweeping debris or spills into the gutter is prohibited.

• Umbrellas are allowed but tents are prohibited.

• Heaters are okay but have to be shown on plans and electric permits issued from the Building Dept.

• Applicants must show proof of approval and number of seats, written approval from the Health dept and Fire Marshall, proof of liability insurance and Worker’s Comp accessible to the Town Risk Manager.

• Applicants must also provide a plan drawn to scale showing tables and chairs as well as a minimum 6-foot public walkway pursuant to ADA and CT state building code.

• Plans have to show fencing, planters, or barricades, as well as any trash receptacles, busing stations, lighting, heaters and signage.

• And if different furniture is used for the outside dining, the plan needs to show which indoor seats will be removed and indicate whether they will be stored on or off site.

See also:

P&Z Outdoor Dining Workshop Feedback: Unsightly, Unneeded, Unfair July 2022

P&Z Outdoor Dining Workshop: Balancing Vibrancy with Health, Safety & Limited Parking September 15, 2022