While some restaurants have been able to utilize their patios and decks to increase the number of customers during the COVID-19-induced 50-percent capacity phase, others without outdoor dining areas are limited by their four walls.
Batavia City Council members don’t think that’s fair and they are looking into a way to temporarily provide municipal space for dining establishments to serve their customers under sunny skies.
Acting City Manager Rachael Tabelski opened a discussion on the subject at tonight’s Council meeting at City Centre Council Chambers.
“I just wanted to update Council tonight and take your temperature on moving forward with the potential of outdoor dining expansion of restaurants that do not have their own capacity to expand on their own property,” said Tabelski, adding that Phase Two of the state’s reopening plan allowed for outdoor dining.
She said that many restaurant in Batavia took advantage of that and expanded on their own property, but just as many don’t have that option. As a result, three restaurant owners have contact City officials to see if it would be possible to expand onto City-owned property.
Since then, the Finger Lakes Region, which includes Genesee County, has moved into Phase Three – permitting restaurants to have on-premise dining with a maximum of 50-percent occupancy.
Tabelski said the topic also has been discussed during an economic development COVID recovery task force comprised of representatives of the Batavia Downtown Business Improvement District, Batavia Development Corporation, the City of Batavia, Genesee County and the Chamber of Commerce.
She also said there is guidance from the New York State Liquor Authority authorizing this, prompting her and City Attorney George Van Nest to draft an application that would be subject to review by City Council.
If approved, the dining establishment, after acquiring proper liability insurance, would be granted a temporary license to operate outdoors on municipal space.
Van Nest said the approval would constitute a “license agreement, not a license or permit, per se, but the actual ability to use that property … consistent with an event application.” He said the liquor authority requires the municipality to submit an application covering those properties and having an adjoining license certification from the restaurant.
Council Member John Canale said he has been thinking about this type of action during his trips around the City.
“To me, this is an absolute no-brainer,” Canale said. “It’s nice to see these restaurants getting creative (by using the sidewalks) and I hope that we as a City allow them to continue to do this for a period of time … Because their capacity is limited to 50 percent inside, if they can gain in nice weather the outside access, it would make up for that.”
Council members Kathleen Briggs and Patti Pacino said they agreed with Canale, while Council Member Jeremy Karas took it even further, suggesting that this could become a seasonal thing.
Council President Eugene Jankowski also said he thought it was a good idea as long as any expansion didn’t interfere with other businesses. He stopped short, however, of endorsing an annual benefit, stating that that was a discussion for another time.
After Council Member Rose Mary Christian said she also was on board with a permanent arrangement for using City land, Van Nest advised that it could evolve into the City requiring a lease agreement and trigger possible assessment implications.
The debate ended with Council asking Tabelski and Van Nest to get the application to Council members as soon as possible for placement on the agenda of their next meeting on July 13th.
In other developments, Council:
-- Heard a report from Karas and Public Works Director Matt Worth that City crews and the state Department of Transportation will be joining forces to replace the sunken manhole covers on Route 98 (Oak Street).
Karas said the covers are causing excessive noise in the area, especially when tractor-trailers coming from or going to the Thruway exit roll over them.
Worth said the DOT has agreed to provide traffic control while City workers replace about 10 manhole castings that are in the driving lane and, finally, get rid of the “clunk-clunk times 100” sound that reverberates through homes along the way.
The tentative schedule calls for the new manhole castings to be replaced in August.
“We will be resetting (them) so they’re flush and then DOT will pave them in that area,” Worth said. “Hopefully, they’re nice and smooth … they’ll fit tight and the noise goes away.”
-- Heard a brief report from Canale that the committee charged with looking into the deer population problem in the City is almost ready to address Council with its recommendations.
Canale said the state Department of Environmental Conservation made a few changes with the wording and has given the City a deadline of Aug. 1st to submit its application.
Calling it a “great plan,” Canale said the committee desires to have guidelines in place by the start of hunting season this fall.
Following the meeting, Jankowski was asked if Council had discussed a plan to find a replacement for Martin Moore, who left his position as City manager on Saturday by what was publicly announced as a “mutual agreement.”
“We haven’t discussed it as a Council, but I know that City staff are doing research and they’re going to provide that information to Council so that we can make a decision as to how we want to go forward,” Jankowski said.
After it was mentioned that the City would get a “free search” from Novak Consulting Group since Moore's tenure lasted less than two years, Jankowski said, “if that is the case, then that’s definitely an option that we’d have to consider.”
The City contracted with the Ohio firm to coordinate the search in the summer of 2018.