Limited sidewalk dining is likely to return to the Village of Rhinebeck this summer after a group of vocal business owners and residents renewed pressure on the Village Board of Trustees to bring it back.
In impassioned appeals and personal stories, roughly one dozen Rhinebeck residents made their case before Village Trustees at a special meeting Tuesday night to discuss outdoor dining.
Proponents of outdoor sidewalk dining, which took place in 2022, hailed the experiment as a success.
“I think that outdoor dining was like the one good thing that came out of Covid,” town resident Robert Stone told village trustees Tuesday. “It brought a lot of joy to this community and brought life to the streets. Everyone I know really enjoyed it.”
Longtime Rhinebeck resident Mark Fuerst, who publishes the Hudson Valley Pilot, praised outdoor dining as an essential service to local residents, not just summer tourists. “I think a lot about the times when I just wanted to sit down with somebody and have a cup of coffee,” he said. “It’s a terrible thing to have such a beautiful place and no place to sit down and share a cup of coffee, or better, a drink, with your friends.”
For sidewalk dining to return, the Village Board of Trustees will need to pass a resolution to allow the practice. In 2022, the board approved a resolution to allow for limited sidewalk dining from June through October (read our coverage). Village Mayor Gary Bassett told The Daily Catch this week that the board could vote on a new resolution permitting sidewalk dining to return as soon as May.
This time around, the board can also lean on the recommendations of a village task force charged with overhauling Rhinebeck’s 1993 comprehensive plan, as it crafts new outdoor dining rules, added Bassett.
Despite the outpouring of support for sidewalk dining, including a petition circulated by business owners in 2022 that gathered nearly 3,000 signatures, only a handful of businesses, including Samuel’s Sweet Shop, Market Street Restaurant, and Pete’s Famous Restaurant, offered sidewalk seating to their customers last summer.
Bassett blamed slow movement by the village board in 2022, which only passed a resolution permitting outdoor dining in late June, after the seasonal rush of tourists to the village was underway. “We were late to the game last year, which I think hindered a lot of our establishments from being able to buy tables and chairs for outdoor seating to be able to do it,” he said. Bassett suggested more restaurants might offer the service this summer if the board acts swiftly, adding, “I think we are getting off to a better start this year.”
Under last year’s village regulations, restaurants, cafes, and eateries in the village were allowed to place tables for their dining establishments on small sections of the sidewalk directly outside their establishments, a practice that began in 2020 and 2021 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the previous rules, outdoor dining tables could only be allowed to spill 3 feet onto the sidewalk from the façade of the business hosting them. Outdoor tables were required to allow for a 5-foot path along the sidewalk for pedestrians to pass through, a requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). And, if alcohol was served outdoors, restaurants were required to set up barriers between their outdoor dining operations and the sidewalk.
To apply for a permit with the village, businesses who wanted to host outdoor dining had to pay a $150 fee for every table they planned to set up outdoors, with a cap at $500 per application. The guidelines also imposed penalties for businesses that violated the rules. The first violation would trigger a warrant, a second would result in the village’s zoning code enforcement officer, Justin Noyes, pulling a business’s outdoor dining permit (read our coverage).
Many proponents of outdoor dining are encouraging the Village Board of Trustees to adopt a similar set of regulations this time around.
“I felt it was very manageable and a really good compromise between the people who wanted it (sidewalk dining) and the people who did not,” town resident Kathleen Evans said Tuesday.
Others who had initially expressed concerns in 2022 over how sidewalk dining could infringe upon accessibility, particularly to those with disabilities, did not speak on Tuesday but weighed in after the meeting.
Among them was Lisa Tarricone, the executive director of Taconic Resources for Independence Inc. (TRI), a leading non-profit advocacy organization for people with disabilities in Dutchess County. Today, Tarricone told The Daily Catch that her organization needs to be “vigilant” in ensuring that if outdoor dining returns, ADA requirements are tightly enforced. Terricone said she could not recall any code violations from outdoor dining last summer, in part because so few restaurants offered the service.
“I can barely even think of any sidewalk dining that took place last summer,” village resident John Rossi, who co-chairs the Dutchess Disability Advocacy Partnership with Tarricone, told The Daily Catch. But, he added, “We are going to make certain that if there is sidewalk dining, that it is inclusive (of those with disabilities).”
Several business owners said the ability to offer sidewalk dining to customers still concerned about contracting Covid-19 is essential to their bottom line.
John Traver, the manager of Samuel’s Sweet Shop at 42 East Market St., told village trustees Tuesday that “mask-wearing indoors is still common practice by many of our residents and visitors… unfortunately, there will always be immunocompromised members of our community,” he said. Those customers, added Traver, “deserve to safely enjoy our restaurants outdoors.”
In addition to eateries, retail shop owners said outdoor dining can lift all local businesses.
“Outdoor dining helps my business because the visibility of diners actively enjoying our village draws folks into our shop, and raises the profile of Rhinebeck as a vibrant place people want to spend time,” Suzanna Hermans, the co-owner of Oblong Books on Montgomery Street in the village, wrote in a letter to the village board this week. “It is getting more and more expensive to run a small business, so if a restaurant wants to provide outdoor dining and can safely do so, they should be allowed to.”
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