Rehoboth fine-tuning outdoor dining rules

With barriers being removed Nov. 2, commissioners discuss path forward
October 2, 2020

Rehoboth may be removing commercial district barriers at the beginning of next month, but restaurants, by order of the governor, have been given permission to expand their footprint outdoors through March 2021.

With that in mind, during their weekly COVID-19 response meeting Sept. 29, city commissioners began fine-tuning the rules for restaurants that want to continue with outdoor dining on city sidewalks through the coming months.

Mayor Stan Mills had tasked Commissioner Patrick Gossett with making a list of suggested rules to discuss.

Beginning with table arrangement, Gossett presented a list he and City Code Enforcement Officer Dennis Jeney compiled. The list included rules saying tables have to be up against the building’s facade, there has to be a minimum of 8 feet of separation between tables, there has to be a pedestrian path of at least 36 inches, there needs to be a barrier of some kind between the tables and pedestrian path if a restaurant is serving alcohol, and tents or canopies are not allowed.

Commissioner Pat Coluzzi expressed some concern with tents or canopies not being allowed, because, she said, she can think of at least one restaurant that uses one for its carry-out service.

Mills said he thought the 36-inch pedestrian path would work for now, but it gave him a bit of heartburn as a long-term solution, because he didn’t think it would be wide enough in certain areas of the commercial district when there are a lot of visitors in town. He suggested the city hire a consultant to figure out before next summer season if there was a need for different minimum widths on different blocks.

Moving to outdoor heating, Gossett presented some rules saying that heaters can only use propane as fuel, there can be no open flame, heaters can only be in place during operating hours, and they must be secured. 

Commissioner Jay Lagree said he thought the suggested rules sounded like good common sense.

In both cases, table arrangement and heating, the suggested rules included language allowing for restaurants to petition the city for an exception. Gossett said the list provides a baseline of requirements, but city staff would have the ability to evaluate on a case-by-case basis.

Commissioners also had a brief discussion on the creation of parklets in the parking spaces of city streets in case COVID-related restrictions are still in place next spring. Parklets are restaurant dining areas taking up parking spaces that separate customers from the street traffic and other parking spots with custom-made barriers. Unlike what Rehoboth did this past summer, parklets keep the sidewalk open for pedestrians.

Commissioner Edward Chrzanowski brought up the idea as an alternative to the bringing back the soon-to-be removed barriers. The parklets are working in places like Wilmington and Philadelphia, he said.

Commissioner Richard Byrne said he liked the idea of parklets, and he was also in favor of allowing restaurants to experiment over the winter so the city can evaluate what can be done better next summer.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Mills tasked Gossett with incorporating the meeting’s conversation into the suggested rules so they would be ready to vote on at the commissioners’ special meeting Tuesday, Oct. 6.

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