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Boston Licensing Board to hold ‘emergency hearing’ with North End restaurants about outdoor dining issues

According to a notice posted by city officials, 'numerous complaints' have been received.

Connie and Gerard Kugel shared a toast outside Caffe Paradiso on Hanover Street in the North End on June 11.
Connie and Gerard Kugel shared a toast outside Caffe Paradiso on Hanover Street in the North End on June 11.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

The Boston Licensing Board is holding a mandatory emergency meeting this week with North End restaurant and bar operators to address concerns that have been raised with officials regarding the neighborhood’s new outdoor dining services.

Earlier this month, restaurants in the North End began setting up tables and chairs on sidewalks and in designated parts of the street to accommodate the return of customers after months of being closed down due to coronavirus.

But according to a public notice posted by the Licensing Board to the city’s website, the al fresco experience has led to problems in one of the city’s most popular dining spots. Those issues have included a lack of social distancing, people smoking, pets on the outdoor extensions, and loud music, officials said.

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The notice said “numerous complaints” have been received by both the Licensing Board and the Inspectional Services Department about restaurants failing to adhere to guidelines set up by city and state officials as the economy slowly reopens.

“The City takes seriously the regulations in place which were created with public health at the forefront, as we are still in the midst of a worldwide health pandemic,” a spokesperson from Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s office said in an e-mail.

On June 10, Walsh announced increased outdoor seating options for restaurants across the city as part of a phased approach to kick-starting the industry. In the North End, 65 restaurants applied for and received final approval to temporarily expand onto the street or sidewalk. Five others received conditional approval, officials said.

The rules state that tables must be at least 6 feet apart and be limited to six people at each one. Patrons must wear face coverings until they are seated, and workers must wear masks at all times.

Details about the emergency meeting were first reported by the blog Boston Restaurant Talk on Tuesday. Officials from the Licensing Board did not immediately return a request for comment.

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The virtual hearing, scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday, will be for all establishments in the North End neighborhood that hold either a Common Victualler License or a Common Victualler License with Alcoholic Beverages, according to the city’s website, and is not limited to those with outdoor dining.

The post warned licensees that a failure to show up to the virtual hearing could lead to an establishment’s temporary outdoor privileges being revoked. The board also threatened the potential for “additional disciplinary action.”

Some complaints could be found on the city’s BOS:311 online service, including one filed Monday for loud music coming from a restaurant around 10 p.m., a person claimed.

“This is absurd! People live here and have to work for a living. They don’t have anyone at their restaurant! Where is the noise enforcement and the accountability for these restaurants,” the complaint said.

A second complaint filed Monday, which included a photograph of a crowded outdoor restaurant scene near Hanover Street, read: “I’m super concerned about the North End. These tables are not 6 feet apart. Masks are not consistently being worn. Is there no enforcement?”

And last week, someone said in one area of the neighborhood, it’s like “a feast is going on every night.”

“I am all for a phased reopening of the NE restaurants, but out of towners are coming here in droves now,” the person wrote. “We’ve all done our part the past 3 months to keep the community safe and now have to deal with over clogged sidewalks, tables less than 6 ft apart etc.”

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The state entered part two of Phase 2 of its reopening plan this week, which allows for indoor dining and other close-contact services like nail salons and tattoo parlors to resume operations with certain restrictions.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Governor Charlie Baker was asked by a reporter about the North End hearing, but did not directly address the complaints.

“The first thing I would say about the rule-making associated with almost everything we have done on the phased reopening, is that it was designed specifically to be a phased reopening with protocols because we were concerned about a return of the virus,” Baker said. “People in Massachusetts have done wonderful work, mostly, one at a time, on their own, over the course of the past several months.”

He said it’s critically important for Boston — or any other community — that’s worried about whether or not employers are living up to the rules and protocols currently in place to take steps to do something about it.

“Because in the end, the way we create additional economic opportunity, the way we help people get back to work, the way we deal with so many of the issues that create super-high anxiety for everybody around the Commonwealth, is by containing the virus and ensuring that people can get back to work,” he said.

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Jaclyn Reiss of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.