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Delis and Takeout Get Outdoor Dining Consideration

Thu, 06/23/2022 - 11:50

Having voted in April to amend the town code to create a pilot program for outdoor dining, a move that could permanently relax outdoor dining rules for restaurants, on Tuesday the East Hampton Town Board discussed measures that would clarify the code with respect to outdoor seating for delicatessens and takeout restaurants, and allow outdoor string lighting at restaurants, which is at present prohibited.

The code amendment passed in April provides for a renewable annual administrative permit, issued by the Planning Department, allowing the outdoor placement of tables and chairs equivalent to 100 percent of a restaurant’s legally existing indoor capacity, provided there is adequate space. The few restaurants within a residential zoning district are allowed to place the equivalent of 75 percent of their indoor seating capacity outdoors. Restaurants that are pre-existing, nonconforming uses in a residential use district are not eligible for the permit.

The program follows the temporary relaxation of outdoor dining rules put in place as the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted commercial activity. Outdoor dining, including on sidewalks and other public property, has proven popular. Left out of that legislation, however, was a decision about including takeout restaurants and delis, Jeremy Samuelson, the town’s planning director, told the board.

Suffolk County allows such establishments to place up to 16 seats indoors or out, and several years ago the town board opted to match the town code to that county regulation. The Downtown Montauk Outdoor Right-of-Way Dining Pilot Program, adopted in 2016, allowed restaurants in that designated area, including takeout food stores, to place up to 16 seats outdoors.

That chapter of the code is “complicated” and “more onerous than it needs to be,” Mr. Samuelson said. He proposed that it be rescinded, and the amendment added in April modified to include the allowance of up to 16 seats outside takeout establishments and delis, provided they are on the establishment’s property and “done in a sensible way,” he said, meaning they do not displace parking or impede emergency vehicle access. A permit would not be required unless seating is placed on adjoining private property or a New York State, Suffolk County, or town-owned right of way.

The board must debate and offer guidance as to a takeout establishment or deli’s use of a neighboring property, with permission, for outdoor seating, he said. “We see this in the outdoor dining law,” where a restaurant can do so with the neighbor’s permission and Planning Department review.

The board must also address the question of allowing such establishments in a limited business overlay district to take advantage of a provision for outdoor seats, he said. Such designations fall within residential districts, board members noted, and they were generally not in favor.

They were somewhat conflicted as to the use of adjacent property, be it private or a state, county, or town-owned right of way, though Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, noting that many people are still reluctant to dine indoors and mindful of social distancing owing to lingering fears of Covid-19, said, “It’s nice to have space between tables. If they want a right of way to space tables out, I’m all for it.”

Councilman David Lys agreed.

With respect to string lighting, “the market has caught up” and now offers products that would be acceptable for outdoor use, Mr. Samuelson said. Restaurants would still need a permit, he said, “but we no longer need to strictly prohibit use of string lighting now, as there are code-compliant options.” Bulbs would have to be fully shielded and inside the fixture so the light source is not visible, he said.

If the light source is not visible, if the lighting does not trespass across a property line, and if the lighting is 3,000 Kelvin or below, “come talk to us,” he said. “We’ll guide you from there.” Such lighting would have to be turned off by midnight.

“The broad view,” Mr. Samuelson said after the meeting, “is that the board is wanting to find ways to support local business while simultaneously balancing people’s expectations for appropriate intensity of use, noise, parking, all the other things we have to be careful to manage so we can retain livable communities, particularly in residential areas.”

The board voted to schedule public hearings on July 7 on the question of rescinding the Downtown Montauk Outdoor Right-of-Way Dining Pilot Program and on amending the code to allow string lighting provided it is code-compliant.

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