More than 1,600 people have signed a petition calling on Newton city leaders to enact permanent regulations allowing local restaurants to serve their customers outdoors.
The petition, organized by the Charles River Chamber Dining Collaborative and a group of local restaurants, encourages “the city’s government to do everything it can to ensure Newton has a vibrant outdoor dining scene for years to come.”
Close to 20 restaurants in Newton were able to provide outdoor dining using parking spaces in front of their establishments this year, according to the city, including the Baramor in Newton Centre.
Arpit Patel, the Baramor’s owner, said in an interview that organizers of the petition are making the case that outdoor dining has widespread support within the community.
“It’s good for the city villages of Newton, it brings out a lot more people, it makes the community more vibrant,” Patel said. “The petition was all positive, we want to convey to the city that this is a positive thing. It’s in everyone’s best interest — restaurants, the city, the Newton villages, and the residents.”
In a statement, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said she supported the effort to keep outdoor restaurant dining in Newton.
“I am 100% supportive of outdoor dining and we’re taking every step locally to make sure we can continue it into the future. Outdoor dining has been wonderful for restaurants, village centers, and diners,” Fuller said.
The City Council’s Public Safety & Transportation Committee is expected to discuss the issue during its Dec. 7 meeting, according to Ellen Ishkanian, a city spokeswoman.
Andreae Downs, a Ward 5 councilor-at-large who leads the committee, said that for her personally, outdoor dining is a “net benefit” to Newton’s village centers and restaurants.
While eating outdoors, “I have regularly connected with community members as they walk or bike by — the program strengthens our community,” Downs said in an e-mail. “As someone who has immunocompromised friends and a very elderly mother, I regularly opt for restaurants with outdoor seating.”
Across Massachusetts, pandemic-era measures allowing restaurants to serve their customers outdoors have been lauded as an essential move to preserving businesses during the health crisis.
But state orders granting cities and towns the power to allow outdoor dining are expected to end in March, and it is falling onto individual communities to decide whether to make those changes permanent.
In Newton, where the current outdoor dining season for restaurants started April 1 and ends Jan. 2, the city allows restaurants to apply for a one-year permit from its Licensing Board.
Restaurants that serve alcohol also need permission from the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.
The city also has kicked off “Newton Al Fresco Communal Dining,” which added painted bistro tables and umbrellas to public spaces within the village centers so restaurant customers can enjoy takeout meals outdoors.
The petition, which was posted to change.org earlier this month, said outdoor dining “has been wonderful for Newton’s diners and businesses.”
But because the state’s pandemic orders allowing outdoor dining will expire, “the city must quickly enact new rules and regulations to allow outdoor dining to continue,” the petition says.
Backers of the petition lauded outdoor dining in petition comments.
“Outdoor dining over the last 2 years has TRANSFORMED Newton for the better,” wrote Benjamin Kahn. “It’s great to see people enjoying themselves. It gives our city an open community vibe. It will be a huge loss if this doesn’t continue.”
Sylvia Broude said that some people cannot eat indoors at restaurants because of the threat posed by COVID-19.
“Making outdoor dining permanent is an easy way to support the success of small businesses like restaurants that are the backbone of our economy!” Broude wrote.
Proponents are hoping that city officials act quickly, so restaurants have time to prepare for next spring.
“In order for restaurants across the state to continue to operate, local municipalities must update the rules and regulations that guide this process,” Greg Reibman, president of the Charles River Regional Chamber, said in a statement. “We’re asking the public to let city officials [know] that they value allowing making outdoor dining permanent by adding your name to [the] petition.”
Patel said Newton’s outdoor dining rules have been critical to his business during the pandemic.
Baramor, which opened in mid-2019, has about 100 indoor seats, and with outdoor dining, Patel is able to add another 100 seats using parking areas along Langley Road and Union Street, he said. His restaurant doesn’t fill all of those seats simultaneously, so customers usually have a choice about where they dine, he said.
If the city is able to act quickly, Patel said Baramor and other restaurants will have more time to prepare for the coming spring and hire enough staff. For Patel’s business, that means hiring additional kitchen and front-of-house personnel, he said.
“One of the city’s priorities over the years, especially under this administration, has been to make the city villages more vibrant” and attract more visitors, Patel said. “I think outdoor dining was a tremendous draw [and] motivator for that.”
John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.