The Connecticut House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill that attempts to streamline the process for restaurants to start or continue offering outdoor dining, which has been a lifeline for restaurants that have lived with capacity restrictions throughout the pandemic.
The bill, approved in the House by a vote of 141-0, now goes to the Senate for final approval.
Until March 31, 2022, the bill would allow restaurants to apply to local zoning officials to offer outdoor dining without submitting a fee or the site surveys or other plans typically needed in zoning applications. Instead the restaurant would submit a “reasonably accurate” drawing depicting the outdoor dining area and a written explanation of the expected impacts of noise, waste and light pollution.
Municipalities would be required to act on the applications within 10 days, and if they do not, the application would be considered approved. If a zoning official rejects the application, the restaurant can appeal to the zoning commission or chief elected official of the municipality within seven days.
Gov. Ned Lamont required municipalities to allow outdoor dining through executive order last May, and it has been a lifeline for many restaurants that have struggled to stay open with strict capacity limits, which were lifted on March 19 after being in effect for a year.
The governor’s order allowing outdoor dining is set to expire with all the rest when his emergency powers lapse on April 20 – unless the Senate votes to approve extending those powers. Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association asked lawmakers to pass the outdoor dining extension so restaurants can plan beyond April.
Restaurants that offered outdoor dining under the executive order will be grandfathered in under the law, said State Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vehey, D-Fairfield, chair of the Planning and Development Committee.
“The two months when Connecticut shut down dining entirely were some of the darkest days ever faced by our industry,” said Dan Meiser, chairman of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, in a news release. “Thankfully, many local restaurants were eventually able to use outdoor dining as a tool to stay in business, and keep people employed. Collectively we worked with state and local officials to change parking lots, sidewalks, and even roads into dining areas. This should continue in 2021, so that our industry can plan ahead, keep our doors open, and continue on the long road towards recovery to the benefit of local economies throughout Connecticut.”