Two years ago, in the early days of the pandemic, indoor dining was banned. Restaurants grew desperate.
Moving with unprecedented speed, town officials okayed outdoor dining in areas like Church Lane and Railroad Place.
It was such a hit, they allowed it again last summer.
Now it’s back for a third year. And it will continue for at least 2 more after that.
Last week, the Planning & Zoning Commission voted 6-1 in favor of a text amendment that gives even more space to outdoor tables and chairs. The previous allotment was 25% of a restaurant’s indoor space. It’s now 75%.
Restaurants can also use a neighbor’s property, with permission.
The Board of Selectwomen gave their okay too. And rather than go through the process every year, they extended approval through 2024.
Maxx Crowley — president of the Westport Downtown Association — is thrilled.
“Church Lane is a key piece of downtown,” he says, referring to the short road that — closed to traffic — has turned into a street festival. Spotted Horse, Manna Toast and Pink Sumo serve al fresco; bands play, and everyone strolls.
“There’s a real sense of community” when cars are banned, Crowley says. “There’s excitement and life, especially at night.”
And, Crowley notes, it’s not only restaurant owners who benefit. “People sit or walk, they see all the shops, and they want to go in and explore. Walkability is the key to retail.”
Church Lane’s closure will last through November 6.
Saugatuck — Westport’s “other” downtown — is another hot spot for outdoor dining. The Selectwomen approved the continued use of parking spots by Romanacci’s and Tarantino. Two nearby restaurants may also apply.
Outdoor dining is here to stay. It’s one of our town’s newest, and most popular, traditions.
Now all we need is the weather to enjoy it.
The one sentence that really stuck out was the restaurant’s ability to use someone else’s property for dining with permission. I hope there’s a legal agreement involved protecting the neighbor from liability.
It seems to me that to be fair the Town needs to shut down Riverside Ave. from Bridge St. to the VFW. This would allow Parker Mansion, Kawa Ni, Rizzutos, Viva Zapata, Boathouse Restaurant and Dunvilles their piece of the public road pie.
At some level, it does seem a bit unfair that not all restaurants can take advantage of this sort of opportunity. I hope the town is at least collecting rent for use of public property for private financial gain. If not, every other restaurant probably has a valid complaint for unequal treatment.
The use of town–owned property in Westport by a private party is supposed to provide a “public good”. Not any more. In this case, despite all the high-fiving between town officials and a very small group of well connected, for-profit insiders, no one ever bothered to articulate exactly what the public good was. So, if we’re going to cheerfully ignore the traffic studies we paid for which show that closing Church Lane will harm residents by displacing traffic onto alternate routes, by all means, let’s share the love by closing MORE roads and offering them for free to any local business which so desires.
Outdoor dining around town is great and everybody seems to love it. I never understood why it was so restrictive in the first place.
Finally! I downtown I want to visit and bring friends
The New York Times reported increased outdoor dining lead to an increase in rats. Restaurants have to be very careful in sweeping uop their garbage.
I’m always amazed that no matter what the town does to hopefully make living here more pleasant there are people who see it as a negative. I would also be interested in knowing which P&Z member voted against the closure.
More traffic congestion doesn’t necessarily make life “more pleasant” for those that actually live in the same neighborhood.