EAST PROVIDENCE — About a week or so after the subject was broached at a City Council meeting here, the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed a bill seeking to extend the law allowing …
EAST PROVIDENCE — About a week or so after the subject was broached at a City Council meeting here, the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed a bill seeking to extend the law allowing restaurants to continue approved outdoor dining on Thursday, March 16.
Proposed by Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett), the legislation would have state-wide mandates put into place during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to supersede existing city/town ordinances. The current Assembly edict was set to expire on April 1.
According to a summary issued by the Legislative Press and Public Information Bureau, McEntee’s bill (2023-H 5264A) would “extend the moratorium imposed on the enforcement of statutes, regulations or ordinances by municipalities or state agencies regarding food service establishment alterations or modifications made in order to comply with the emergency declaration(s) issued as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to February 15, 2024."
“The Take It Outside campaign helped so many of our restaurants get through the uncertainty and financial hardships of the pandemic and it has been embraced and enjoyed by the public immensely,” said McEntee. "Now that the program has proven to be very successful, it makes sense to keep allowing this type of dining experience, especially since our local small businesses invested so much money to take advantage of the opportunity. This bill will further enhance our world-renown culinary community for our residents and visitors alike while also supporting our incredible restaurants and eateries"
She continued, “I am also working on legislation that will facilitate a permanent solution for restaurants that have invested in the take it outside dining program. I am consulting with all stakeholders such as the League of Cities and Towns, the Hospitality Association and our restaurant owners to come up with a permanent solution that addresses everyone’s concerns.”
McEntee’s bill now heads to the Senate for consideration where Sen. Alana M. DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown, New Shoreham) has introduced mirroring legislation (2023-S 0300). It too is likely to pass and combined version is expected to eventually be signed into law by Gov. Dan McKee.
In city, the matter came up as part of a lengthy discussion at the March 7 Council meeting when a local restauranteur sought approval for two applications.
Gustavo DaSilva, owner of Mina’s Café located at 315 Waterman Ave., sought the body’s backing to extend the business’ hours of operation from the standard 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. DaSilva also asked for his business to gain a Dance/Entertainment License.
Being licensing issues, a public hearing was held as part of the proceedings, during which nearby residents delivered harsh rebukes of DaSilva’s business.
DaSilva said he wanted the entertainment license so he could have live music accompanying his dinner service as well as to keep customers in the establishment after they were done eating.
Residents claimed it would basically turn a restaurant into a night club.
Those from the neighborhood around Mina’s, known to many long-time Townies as the site of the one-time Joseph’s Restaurant, also called the existing business, including the outdoor portion allowed under the current state law, a nuisance due to the activity that already takes place into the early morning hours.
Their complaints actually dated back to the site's former proprietor, Paquette’s Family Restaurant, which ceased in mid-2021.
Many of the same objectors were hopeful the Council could take action about the outdoor dining, especially with the spring and summer seasons just on the horizon.
The Council rejected each of DaSilva’s applications by a 4-0 vote, Ward 4 member Rick Lawson was ill and absent from the meeting, but noted it could not do anything at the moment to address the outdoor dining aspect.
Members also noted it was likely the Assembly would pass a continuance to override local authority, proving prescient as that process began some nine days after the Council meeting.