WOBURN - The City Council could act as early as next week on a pair of zoning amendments that would allow local restauranteurs to continue using indefinitely outdoor dining areas by parking lots and other nearby spaces.
During the most recent gathering in City Hall, the aldermen voted unanimously to schedule a tentative vote on June 15 on proposals to include patio spaces and rooftop seating areas as a permissible uses within all zoning districts where full-service restaurants are allowed.
Endorsed by Woburn’s Chamber of Commerce, formerly known as the Woburn Business Association, both initiatives are being brought forward in order to permanently legitimize the dozens of outdoor eating areas that cropped up across the community during the COVID-19 crisis.
City Council President Edward Tedesco has joined with Alderman at-large Robert Ferullo Jr. to sponsor the outdoor dining area ordinance, which would empower the City Council to grant special permits to restauranteurs who wish to offer outdoor seating to customers.
“It’s a definition change for restaurant full-service,” said Tedesco at the gathering, explaining the mechanism by which the patio areas will be allowed as a special permit use. “It would include outdoor seating and rooftop dining into the full definition.”
As the state looked to help out shuttered businesses and slowly revive a local economy early that was intentionally frozen in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mass. Governor Charles Baker last June first sanctioned an emergency public health directive that fast-tracked the local approval process for the makeshift dining areas.
Under the gubernatorial decree, enacted per the powers granted to the state’s chief executive during a state-of-emergency, municipalities were authorized to issue temporary special permits allowing private businesses to place tents and tables in courtyards and parking lots, along sidewalks, and even in special “parklets” along public ways.
In Woburn, where the city’s Licensing Commission previously processed requests for a handful of outdoor patio areas on public property, city officials adopted the emergency regs by designating Mayor Scott Galvin as the emergency special permit granting authority.
However, on June 15, the underlying state-of-emergency that enabled the state to okay the makeshift patios is set to expire. As a result, the temporary permits issued to local restaurants will lapse 60-days later - or in mid-August.
Baker has filed special legislation to extend the expiration timeline out to November.
The local zoning change would preempt that state approval process and create a mechanism by which local restaurants could keep their outdoor dining areas indefinitely.
The second zoning proposal, which relates to rooftop dining, would expand to the entire city the areas where full-service restaurants are allowed to create upper-story patios.
According to John Paul Martignetti, whose family owns several commercial buildings across Woburn, the pair of zoning initiatives will go a long way in helping out businesss that have struggled to stay afloat during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Generally, I’d just like to extend a thank-you for your efforts in addressing the zoning considerations and helping us out, amongst other owners and businesses in the city,” he said during the last council meeting.