Hingham restaurants have option to extend outdoor table service until Spring 2023: ‘It’s been a major plus’

Photo courtesy of the Hingham Downtown Association

April 6, 2022 By Carol Britton Meyer

Outdoor dining under the expedited permitting process put in place by Gov. Charlie Baker in 2020 during the COVID-19 state of emergency has been a big hit, benefitting the community and restaurants alike.

That option was set to expire April 1, but on the same day, the governor extended the expiration date to Spring of next year, according to the town's Real Estate Counsel, Susan Murphy.

This week, the board approved amending the "Town of Hingham COVID-19 Temporary Policy Regarding Restaurant Outdoor Table Service" in its entirety and also amended the OTS approvals granted to about a dozen restaurants by extending their expiration dates to April 1, 2023.

"This executive order allowed restaurants that were not permitted for outdoor dining to offer it as a way to help keep them afloat [with Select Board approval]," Murphy said at Tuesday's Select Board meeting. "This option has been very popular among restaurant owners and the public."

Select Board member William Ramsey called allowing OTS under this process "a major plus. Patrons enjoy eating outside on a warm summer night, and the outdoor dining in downtown Hingham has enhanced its ambience," along with OTS in other parts of town. "It's been really successful."

The expedited permitting process allowed restaurants -- contingent on local approval -- to in some cases offer outdoor dining on sidewalks and parking areas and on their own property in others.

With passage of the recent state legislation, the Hingham Select Board updated its own policy to reflect current state law.

The vote stipulated, however, that if the legislature extends the expiration date, the town's recission date will also be extended to the same date unless the Select Board, at its discretion, sets an earlier expiration date, subject to certain conditions.

The idea is that once the expedited permitting process expires once and for all, restaurants have the ability to go before town permitting boards to request permission to offer outdoor dining under the normal process.

Square Cafe has already been granted permanent approval to continue its outdoor dining option, and Locales Tacos & Tequila is also seeking the necessary approvals that would allow permanent OTS at their Crow Point Lane location.

The Select Board voted to extend the expiration date until April 1, 2023 for the following restaurants who requested, and were granted permission for, outdoor table service during COVID-19 under the expedited process, if they wish to do so -- subject to septic regulations for applicable businesses to ensure that under Title 5 their system is able to accommodate both the indoor dining that was not allowed when this option was first offered and outdoor table service:

99 Restaurant & Pub; Alma Nove; Boat House Bistro; Burtons Grill; Legal C Bar, Locales Tacos & Tequila; South Shore Sports Center; The Range; The Snug, Tosca, Vida Mexicana, and Wahlburgers. Legal C, Burtons, South Shore Sports Center, the Range, and Vida Mexicana all have septic systems.

Any restaurant granted an extension for OTS would be required to operate under its current outdoor dining plan. Any requests for modifications would need to go before the Select Board, and any extension is subject to adjustments by the board as its members deem necessary, including any parking issues or neighborhood concerns.

Chair Joseph Fisher said the comments about OTS he has heard from the public have been positive. "Maybe we could hold some of our Select Board meetings at a [nearby] downtown restaurant," he quipped, to which Town Administrator Tom Mayo responded, "Then we would have to go to every one of them!"

While grateful that the outdoor dining option period has been extended, Ramsey emphasized that it's for one year only. "I don't think that will happen again," he said.  "I encourage any restaurant owner who is planning to request permission to offer permanent OTS to use this year to reach out to the town's permitting staff to start the process and not to wait until March 2023 to do so. They are especially user friendly to these requests."

When asked,  Police Chief David Jones said there are no police or fire public safety issues related to outdoor dining of which he is aware.

Fisher wished all of these restaurants well and said he hopes they "will all prosper. I'm looking forward to [outdoor dining] there."

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