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March 21, 2023
DANBURY — During the COVID-19 crisis, when social distancing was a household phrase and people couldn’t dine inside restaurants for fear of spreading the deadly virus, temporary permission to allow outdoor dining was a savior for eateries here and across the region.
Today, with more than 80 restaurants across the city still operating outdoor dining patios on extensions of Gov. Ned Lamont’s emergency COVID orders allowing eateries to serve food and drinks outside, Danbury’s top planner has proposed a law to make outdoor dining a permanent feature in the Hat City, subject to a streamlined permit of $200.
“Obviously this is going to be great because in the summer and when the weather is nice, people prefer to be outside,” said Wilson Hernandez, owner of the downtown restaurant, La Mitad del Mundo. “This is going to help us.”
Hernandez is one of the city’s restaurateurs who took advantage of Lamont’s temporary order allowing outdoor dining, creating a covered patio with tables and 20 chairs in the brick alleyway between his eatery and the post office building on Main Street.
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“We have a side street and a wide sidewalk with a nice patio, so this is going to be great, especially if they are going to simplify the process,” Hernandez said. “That helps everybody.”
The new law proposed by Sharon Calitro, the city’s planning director, would allow a licensed restaurant to apply for an outdoor dining permit as an accessory use, with certain conditions.
The proposed law rules out allowing outdoor dining as an accessory use for cafes, taverns, fast food chains, breweries, and distilleries.
Outdoor dining would only be allowed until 11 p.m. under the proposal, which will be the subject of a public hearing before the Zoning Commission on April 25.
The city is trying not only to take advantage of state legislation that goes into effect in May allowing a streamlined permit process for outdoor dining but also to act on its newly adopted master plan for the next decade, which lays out Danbury’s priorities in key areas of municipal planning, including economic development.
“[R]egulations to address outdoor dining as a permanent accessory use to a licensed restaurant meets strategy one of the economic development goal of the (master plan),” Calitro wrote in a memo to the city’s Planning and Zoning commissions. “Developing clear requirements and a process for this outdoor dining accessory use supports economic development and provides opportunities for growth and development of city businesses.”
Among the fine print of the proposed law are rules governing the look and feel of sidewalk dining.
As of December 19th, the City of Danbury has reported 22,685 positive COVID-19 cases and 229 associated deaths. The City’s current COVID-19 infection rate is 11.50% and the 14-day running average is 13 cases per 100,000. Below you will find additional information regarding COVID-19 cases in Danbury as of December 15, 2022.
* Data from December 14, 2022 report
The Danbury area saw an overall decrease in violent crime last year, according to recently released crime statistics data from the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, which showed a similar trend across the state.
For the first time in 10 years, the number of violent crimes in Connecticut fell below 6,000, according to the department’s report on 2021 state crime statistics showing 5,957 incidents of violent crime reported in Connecticut in 2021 compared to 6,549 in 2020.
The agency’s report contains data from the Uniform Crime Reporting Program and classifies murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault as violent crime.
Between Danbury and the nearby towns of Bethel, Brookfield, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, Redding, Ridgefield and Sherman, there were 133 incidents of violent crime reported in 2021 compared to 149 in 2020, according to the data.
Most of those incidents occurred in Danbury, where 85 violent crimes were reported last year. The city saw a 17 percent drop from the 102 reported in 2020, according to the latest crime data.
Brookfield and Bethel, however, saw the number of violent crimes increase. In Bethel, there were 11 incidents reported in 2021 compared to seven in 2020. Brookfield had eight violent crimes in 2021, compared to three the year before.
Newtown, meanwhile, saw the largest percent drop in violent crime in the area, with a year-over-year decrease of 56 percent. The town had four violent crimes in 2021, compared to nine the previous year.
Newtown Police Chief David Kullgren says he’s proud of the town’s low violent crime rate and attributes it to “the dedication of the men and women of the Newtown Police Department.”
“Our officers are diligent in their patrols and motor vehicle activity, which creates an omnipresence in town, aiding in the deterrence of crime,” he said.
Although there has been an increase in property crimes “directly related to unlocked motor vehicles and catalytic converter thefts” in recent years, Kullgren said Newtown is not alone in that.
“This trend stretches across the country,” he said. “Our best advice to residents and business owners is to remove valuables from your vehicles, secure them and not leave your keys/fobs in your vehicles.”
Of the nine area towns, New Milford had the second-highest number of violent crimes reported in 2021 at 14. The number, however, reflects a 30 percent decrease from the year before, when 20 violent crimes were reported in the town.
Redding saw one fewer incident last year compared to 2020, but violent crimes aren’t very common there to begin with. According to the state’s crime data, there were only three incidents of violent crime in Redding in 2020 and two in 2021.
Violent crime is also less common in the towns of Ridgefield and Sherman, but both towns saw slight year-over-year increases in 2021.
There were six violent crimes reported in Ridgefield in 2021 compared to three the year before, and only one violent crime — an aggravated assault — in Sherman in 2021. According to the state data, there were no incidents of violent crime reported in Sherman the year before.
Of the nine area towns, New Fairfield was the only one that had the same number of violent crimes reported in 2021 as it did in 2020. According to the data, one rape and one aggravated assault were reported there both years.
Danbury was the only municipality in the area with incidents of murder or non-negligent manslaughter reported in 2021, according to the data. There were two such incidents last year — the overdose death of a 1-year-old boy in March and the drive-by-shooting death of 18-year-old Yhameek Johnson in June.
Three homicides have been reported in the city so far this year, according to the Uniform Crime Report data report the Danbury Police Department shared with the City Council earlier this month. They involved three children who were strangled to death by their mother at their Whaley Street home in July.
The department’s data as of July — August and September data has not yet been released — also shows a continued increase in crime over last year.
In addition to the three homicides, there were three forcible rapes, 11 robberies, 18 assaults, 56 burglaries, 451 thefts, 39 motor vehicle thefts and six incidents of arson during the first seven months of this year, compared to two homicides, six forcible rapes, 14 robberies, 17 assaults, 45 burglaries, 301 thefts, 46 motor vehicle thefts and three incidents of arsons as of July 2021.
Danbury Police Chief Patrick Ridenhour — who said earlier this year that he believes the rise in crime reflects a return to normalcy from the pandemic — said Tuesday that his department has not yet had a chance to fully review the state’s recently released 2021 crime report.
Although there was an overall decrease in violent crime last year, Connecticut did see an uptick in reported incidents of homicide and rape.
According to the state’s 2021 crime statistics report, there were 786 rape cases and 150 murder and negligent manslaughter cases in Connecticut last year — reflecting year-over-year increases of 23 percent and 2 percent, respectively.
During a news conference in Middletown on Monday, Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella said he believes the dramatic increase is due to the pandemic easing.
“I suspect after coming off of COVID that reporting for a victim of sexual assault is not only difficult on its onset, but it’s also difficult a month or a few months down the road for those folks, but we’re seeing that they are making these complaints,” he said.
Although overall crime in Connecticut dropped slightly from 62,689 in 2020 to 60,921 in 2021, the number of crimes was still higher than the 57,845 reported in 2019, according to the report.
State data from the National Incident-Based Reporting System show there have been more than 69,500 crimes in Connecticut so far this year.