Westport restaurants face delay in re-opening Wednesday
WESTPORT — While some retailers expect to open their doors on Wednesday, the town’s restaurants may not since the process to get an outdoor serving permit was not finalized until Tuesday.
“We are working on guidelines and an application form for outdoor dining,” Sara Harris, town’s operation director, said on Monday.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order on May 12 gave broad leeway to municipal zoning officials to allow restaurants to set up outdoor dining services. Last week, the Planning and Zoning Commission noted the importance of a simple application because of the temporary nature of the order.
Harris said officials from the town and the Planning and Zoning Department have since met to discuss the changes.
“We are well aware that the state’s date is May 20 and we’re working as fast as possible, but we’re obviously focused on working as smart as possible,” she said. “It requires a great deal of coordination.”
Harris said the town will be able to review and approve requests for outdoor dining through an administrative process with the Planning and Zoning Department so applicants won’t have to go in front of the zoning commission.
“It’s really a matter of us confirming how we will do that administrative approval to make sure certain standards are upheld,” she said.
On Tuesday, the town publicized its application form. Once applications are received businesses will be notified if their application has been approved, amended or denied within 10 business days. If no response is received within that timeframe the application is deemed approved.
While the delay may affect some businesses, Harris said the town has also heard some debate. Some have cautioned against the re-opening while others have shown they are prepared, she said. The ReOpen Westport Advisory Team will play a crucial role in balancing the needs of both, she said.
“That’s the charge of the reopen task force,” Harris said, “to weigh the pros and cons of the entrepreneur or the business manager and see how to re-open in a smart and coordinated fashion.”
As of Wednesday, Pearl at Longshore was the only restaurant to have its application approved. Harris said the zoning department was diligently processing applications with plans to work over the weekend.
Matthew Mandell, executive director of the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce, held a virtual meeting for more than three dozen restaurants to discuss reopening. He said while restaurants were interested in returning to some kind of normal, safety came first.
Mandell, who also serves on the ReOpen Westport Advisory Team, said 20 restaurants have already emailed the zoning department with their concepts for outdoor dining. He said some restaurants may get approvals this week, but the point wasn’t to rush.
“As I’ve been saying this isn’t a race,” he said. “They need to get it right and if it takes a couple extra days, it’s better to do it right than do something wrong.”
He said restaurants that already had outdoor dining approvals will still have to partake in the new application process.
On Monday, Lamont walked back his decision to have barbers and salons re-open on May 20. Mandell said the reversal showed just how quickly things can change.
“This is an exceedingly fluid situation and everybody has to just take a breath,” he said. “I understand everybody wants to open and I’m behind them, but we need to do it right.”
Mandell said although the May 20 date had been marked for re-opening, the executive order outlining how it would be done was not issued until last week, which gave the town little time to formalize the outdoor dining application process.
“Again, the goal is let’s not make any mistakes,” Mandell said. “Let’s do this right so that when everybody re-opens we’re in much better shape.”