Bristol ready to fast-track outdoor dining plans

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The Town of Bristol is willing to move quickly to help restaurants expand their outdoor seating areas. Gov. Gina Raimondo’s announcement that restaurants will be allowed to reopen to customers for outdoor dining only (in addition to takeout service), beginning this Monday, put towns like Bristol at the forefront of regulating and approving such plans.

Approval of an outdoor seating plan, particularly when it involves tables on public sidewalks, can typically take months and require approval from the Bristol Town Council. On Wednesday, Bristol Town Administrator Steven Contente issued an executive order that allows his office to fast-track the review and approval of outdoor dining plans.

The executive order gives restaurants permissions to “temporarily expand their service areas in sidewalks and/or adjacent public or private areas,” subject to conditions. First, restaurants must comply with the governor’s regulations, which include no more than 20 outdoor tables; parties of 5 or fewer; tables separated by at least 8 feet; 6 feet of distance between tables and common foot traffic areas; reservations only; no shared condiments, menus, etc.; disposable utensils, and many regulations regarding social distancing for employees and cleaning of tables, bathrooms and common areas.

Secondly, restaurants hoping to expand beyond their already approved footprint must submit a plan to be reviewed by the town administrator, building official, fire chief and director of public works.

Despite the hurdles, the town administrator says they are ready to move quickly to help any restaurant get back in business. Mr. Contente said they will immediately review plans and give someone an answer within 24 hours.

“We want businesses to reopen. We want to help. If they give us a plan that’s reasonable, we’re going to approve it,” Mr. Contente said. A restaurant’s outdoor dining plan could include expansion into a public sidewalk, a public or private parking lot, or even an adjacent private property (with permission of the adjacent property owner).

“We were already having these conversations in anticipation of what the state might do,” said Chris Vitale, Bristol’s economic development coordinator. The town is prepared to respond quickly to these petitions. “There will be lots of flexibility at the local level,” said Mr. Vitale. “There will be a process, but we don’t want to be in the business of saying no."

Mr. Vitale said this would be a temporary measure, though the end date is uncertain and would be dependent on when the state moves to the next phase of recovery.

State regulations also allow for the use of tents in outdoor dining plans, subject to town approval. The Brisdtol Town Council will operate as the appeal board if anyone wants to contest a town administrator outdoor dining decision.

Businesses that want to submit for a Temporary Expansion of Outdoor Dining permit can do so
through the town's online e-permitting platform.

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