READING – Imagine a romantic, starlit summer night in Reading. Now imagine it while relaxing under a tent, enjoying tiramisu while sipping a Pomegranate Lime Martini. Believe it or not, all this was on the agenda of Tuesday's Select Board meeting.
Okay, maybe romance and martinis weren't specifically mentioned, but the Venetian Moon's proposal for outdoor dining certainly was. And if you don't believe it, take a look Wednesday as you drive by the Italian restaurant that's been a fixture on the corner of Main and Woburn Streets since 2001.
A tent with seating for 58 diners will be erected on the cobblestone (actually stamped concrete) parking area in front of the Venetian Moon, possibly as soon as Wednesday. Using Jersey barriers, the parking area will be sealed off and an idea that started with an application from Venetian Moon owner Lisa Cavallo on June 8 will be a reality June 17. All this is an example of how Reading is doing its best to help businesses rebound form the effects of the health pandemic.
In this age of the corona virus and state regulations that change daily, the idea almost didn't happen. A well-intentioned Executive Order from the state allowing restaurants to expand their liquor license outdoors contained what Town Manager Bob LeLachuer called "a typographical error." That error meant the town would have to hold a public hearing in two weeks (June 30) to hear from abutters before restaurants like the Venetian Moon would be allowed to serve liquor outdoors. The state legislature knows of the typo and House Bill 4767 corrects it. But ... It hasn't passed yet.
After talking with State Representative Brad Jones, along with a conference call LeLacheur participated in with the Lieutenant Governor's office, it was decided to go ahead with approving Venetian Moon's application before the House Bill is passed.
"It's not perfect, but we can't be perfect right now," said LeLacheur.
With that, the Select Board voted 5-0 to approve the liquor license for outdoor areas for the Venetian Moon. With permit in hand this morning, the tent will go up. There are a few small permitting issues as well but those are expected to be dealt with quickly. Cavallo said she expects to have outdoor dining until Sept. 1, possibly longer.
"Let's see how it goes," said an appreciative Cavallo.
The Venetian Moon isn’t the only restaurant slated for outdoor dining. So far eight restaurants have re-opened, starting with Christophers last week, and Assistant Town Manager Jean Delios was before the board for a third time to provide updates on the move outdoors.
Residents can expect to see bistro tables sprouting up at area restaurants. Green Tomato, The Last Corner, Professor’s Market, and Fusion Cafe will all have Bistro Tables for outside dining, courtesy of the town and its Expedited Approval team (EAT). Café Nero chose to use its own tables. All have been approved by the town for outside dining.
“We’re very happy that this is a bright light for the restaurant community,” said Delios. “As you know, the sales have been 25-30-35 percent and that’s just not sustainable. So, we’re very concerned about businesses not surviving this time.”
The board also approved a new slate of volunteers on town boards. It was an easy process, except when it came to the Board of Health. Three positions were open on the board, with current member Kevin Sexton seeking reappointment. The debate centered on whether to put Sexton back on as a full voting member or as an associate, a non-voting member. With nine applicants for the three spots there was an opportunity to add new members with tremendous backgrounds in public health. Carlo Bacci felt Sexton should remain a full member, citing his experience on the board. Others on the board appreciated Sexton’s work during the pandemic but recognized the skills the newcomers brought.
In the end, Kerry Dunnell was given one of the full memberships for a term that expires in 2023 by a 5-0 vote. Paula Curren was given a full membership for a term that expires in 2021 by a 4-1 vote with Bacci opposed. And Sexton was named to an associate position by a 4-1 vote with Bacci again opposed. The three will join current chair Eleanor Shonkoff and associate member AnnMarie Messina.
Earlier in the meeting, Shonkoff said the Board of Health was looking for volunteers with some medical experience for contact tracing in the fall. She added volunteers must be willing to undergo training for the position. If they don’t get enough volunteers the BOH will consider hiring people for the positions. She added the once-weekly Covid-19 count will be updated on the town website Wednesday at 4 p.m.
The Select Board also heard an update on replacing the Auburn Street water tower, a project that was first discussed in 2012. Right now, the 750,000-gallon water tank also doubles as a cell tower. With the new plan, there will be two separate towers, one for water, one for cell equipment. The town could combine the two again but LeLacheur said it made much more sense to have two towers.
“From a financial standpoint, separate is better. From a non-financial standpoint, it’s better,” said LeLacheur.
At Monday’s Town Meeting, $100,000 was approved for the project.
The Reading Cultural Council is asking residents for feedback on its 2020 grants and has a survey on the town website. The Cultural Council awards funding grants to local cultural and arts programs in the Reading community. Chair Mark Dockser encouraged residents to take the survey.
Despite a long Town Meeting Monday, a tired group wrapped up their almost 4-hour virtual meeting and went into executive session to chat even more.