To help businesses, Barrington removes fees for use of public space

Businesses now allowed to use public outdoor spaces

By Josh Bickford
Posted 8/13/20

What has Barrington's government done to help local businesses during the pandemic?

This question surfaced during the July 27 town council meeting, as officials discussed an initiative proposed by …

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To help businesses, Barrington removes fees for use of public space

Businesses now allowed to use public outdoor spaces

Posted

What has Barrington's government done to help local businesses during the pandemic?

This question surfaced during the July 27 town council meeting, as officials discussed an initiative proposed by the town's Economic Development Commission.

Council president Michael Carroll said it was important to remember that the town has limited ability to help — he said Barrington cannot print its own money, and it cannot run a deficit. Mr. Carroll said the town could help connect business owners with the federal assistance programs available.

EDC members suggested a handful of ways the town could offer further help to local stores and restaurants. An EDC memo shared some of the ideas:

• Temporarily relax enforcement of the rules for business signs, banners and flags;

• allow a grace period for enforcement of the town's new polystyrene ban;

• provide financial assistance to local businesses that were not able to receive money through the federal PPP or a micro-loan;

• waive fees or taxes for businesses that have had to close;

• allow businesses to use town fields, parks and other property to hold outdoor sessions without imposing a fee.

EDC members discussed the issue at their May 21 meeting and shared their ideas with the town manager, council president and others. On June 23, EDC Chairman Rob Humm sent a followup email, detailing the challenges one local business was experiencing. He wrote that Synergy Power Yoga owner Alyssa Sullivan was only able to accommodate five people for each indoor yoga class at her studio, which was a far cry from the groups of up to 35 she used to lead.

Ms. Sullivan could offer larger classes, Mr. Humm wrote, if she was able to offer the sessions at the town beach or at a local park. However, the town does not allow for-profit businesses to use public spaces.

Mr. Humm wrote that waiving that restriction and any fee would be a "simple gesture … that could go a long way in terms of goodwill to the business community."

Barrington Town Council member Joy Hearn said she thought the EDC's idea was terrific. She made a motion to waive fees for use of town fields. Councilor Kate Weymouth seconded the motion, which passed 5-0.

Better now

Council member Steve Boyajian said the challenges of operating a business in the current climate may have yielded an unintended benefit.

Mr. Boyajian said he recently drove past the restaurant Nacho Mama's and noticed that tables and umbrellas had been set up outside in the plaza parking lot. Mr. Boyajian said the outdoor seating added some vibrancy to downtown Barrington. He said it might be a good idea for the town's leaders to consider rolling back their prior approach to outdoor dining and allow this feature on a permanent basis.

Mr. Boyajian said by allowing outdoor dining, officials would increase foot traffic downtown — for years, Barrington has worked toward creating a more walkable and pedestrian-friendly downtown.

Mr. Carroll suggested that the planning board should discuss the idea further.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.