As Vermont continues to battle the coronavirus, Governor Phil Scott has limited restaurants to serving at 25% indoor dining capacity. Knowing that restaurants will be eager to take advantage of their outdoor dining opportunities, the Waterbury Planning Commission proposed interim zoning changes to the Temporary Dining Tent & Sign Bylaw, the zoning ordinance that determines when, where and how local businesses can put up tents.
The planning commission presented these amendments for approval to the select board at a meeting on June 15. Steve Lotspeich of the planning commission spoke first and explained that the amendments would help guide restaurants as they increase their outdoor dining capacity. “This is an opportunity for us as a municipality to facilitate getting these tents up and in use,” said Lotspeich.
Here are a few details about the amendments that the board approved at the meeting: Tents can only be used between April 15 and November 15 and must be removed during the winter months. All lighting associated with the tents must be located inside the tent, as not to disturb the neighbors. Entertainment venues with music associated with the use of a tent must receive an entertainment permit from the town of Waterbury, and all state-sanctioned COVID-19 requirements, such as social distancing and capacity limitations, must be followed.
Tents can be set up on existing decks, patios, lawns and parking areas. There is no minimum or maximum size for temporary dining tents. Bars and restaurants can have more than one tent, and all tents must be maintained in good condition.
One amendment that the board did not approve was the suggestion that the permit last for only one year. Originally, the bylaw allowed permits to last up to two years. “It doesn’t seem to make sense to require someone to get a permit again when the conditions may change,” said town manager Bill Shepeluck, speaking of the unpredictable coronavirus conditions currently forcing restaurants to turn to increased outdoor dining.
Board members agreed to eliminate the one-year limit and stick with the original two-year permit. While some select board members were concerned about the extra noise to be brought by an increase in outdoor dining, board members approved the rest of the amendments in the end.
“I don’t anticipate this being a party. I think it’s a great way to give customers a safe place to dine,” said select board member Mark Frier.