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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.