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Town of Oyster Bay encourages outdoor dining, waives fees

With outdoor dining, hope for a lucrative summer

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The Town of Oyster Bay will waive permit fees this year, as it did in 2020, to assist restaurants during the Covid-19 pandemic. Ordinarily the hamlet’s eateries would be required to meet several guidelines for outdoor dining, which could even include rezoning.

Café Dente repurposed its parking lot last summer to a dining area with several tables. If the fees were still active, the owner, Damien Carlino, would probably have to get a special use permit, which would cost $500, and he would need to hire an attorney to help with the process. That would be expensive.

Town of Oyster Bay permit fees can range from $25 to thousands of dollars, and it takes time for the processing.

“Not having the fees is great,” Carlino said. “It was a big help last year and will be this year. Maybe it will become semi-permanent. The town is definitely working with restaurants.”

Help from government at all levels is desperately needed. Although a decision by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on March 18 allows for restaurants outside the city to increase capacity to 75 percent, many people remain concerned about dining indoors, making outdoor dining a must. But setting up tables outside can be challenging for most eateries in the hamlet because there is little room to do so without blocking sidewalks or roadways.

According to Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino, a survey of New York restaurants done in 2020 indicated that 60 percent could close without financial assistance from the government. Some restaurants have already shut their doors in the hamlet, including the popular Canterbury’s Oyster Bay and Grill on Audrey Avenue, which closed at the beginning of the pandemic.

Saladino said at a March 29 news conference that he is pleased to continue to assist restaurants by allowing for outdoor dining without the need for permits. By doing this, he also hopes to help eateries recoup on their investments of “Covid” items like tents, heaters and other coverings, he said.

“We have worked tirelessly since this pandemic began to help local businesses come back safely and effectively,” Saladino said. “We cut the red tape, waived fees and allowed for new outdoor dining options for restaurant patrons. We are pleased to continue with that effort, inviting restaurants to extend their outdoor dining services through 2021.”

Iron Chef winner Jesse Schenker, owner of 2 Spring, said his business is holding its own, but every day is a struggle. The waiving of permits is helpful, he said.

“We would need to get permits for sidewalk and scaffolding that would involve the highway department,” he said. “It’s really not the money, it’s the process.”

Waiving fees could be the way of the future so people could dine outside. “In France, there is sidewalk dining everywhere,” he said. “It has been successful here. I had people sitting outside in a blizzard this past winter.”

Many restaurants in the hamlet could not offer dining outside because of what was previously required. “Now the town is saying, ‘No problem. We won’t make you jump through hoops and get a permit.’ This is a great idea,” Schenker said.

Saladino also cited statistics gathered by New York state indicating that bars and restaurants account for only 1.4 percent of new statewide Covid-19 cases. Yet, there remains an 11 p.m. curfew.

Councilman Lou Imbroto referred to the curfew as an “arbitrary rule,” adding that it is unfair to restaurant owners.

“We are urging New York state to fully eliminate these restrictions, as these businesses have been through enough,” he said. “The restaurant industry has already proven they can do what’s necessary to maintain safety protocols and keep customers and employees safe. Let’s let them get back to work.”

The town’s efforts are appreciated by restaurant owners, Brad Berrol, of IT BGL, said. “We appreciate the town trying to facilitate a renewed downtown and provide outdoor dining. It’s still a challenging time for restaurants,” he said. “Every little bit helps in this environment.”

Berrol has expanded his outdoor dining with five tabletops. He said he hopes things will turn around soon, but March, he said, was not encouraging. “We had more people dining [inside] last March than this March,” he said. “Outside is clearly the preferred method of dining or taking things to go.”

Schenker said he can see the town’s efforts are appreciated, and he can see that the decisions, like eliminating permits, are being thoughtfully made. Once the economy is stable, he would like to see outdoor dining be permanent, without permit fees. “I am for taxing though,” he said. “It would make sense.”

2 Spring had heated blankets and overhead heating outside this winter. And it had enough room for several tables, but except for Wild Honey, at East Main Street and Audrey Avenue, Schenker said his eatery is in the minority.

“I’m glad I was here for the happy moments. This is so emotional,” he said. “Between people getting sick, the vaccines, the information coming out so quickly that people get scared and frustrated, it’s all a lot to keep up with. Before Covid people didn’t think like they do now.”

Schenker would like to continue to operate a place where people can stop by, have a drink and smile. “Outdoor dining is a great idea for morale all around,” he said. “Sitting outside will do good things for everyone.”