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Outdoor dining in downtown Riverhead will continue through at least Sept. 30 — and town officials are discussing allowing it permanently.

The town board at a special meeting yesterday morning authorized a temporary waiver of downtown zoning limitations on outdoor dining, including the use of parking areas for dining purposes. A prior waiver of those requirements had expired June 30.

The action was taken because the “the COVID-19 pandemic has had lingering and continuing effect upon restaurants and food establishments” in Riverhead, according to the resolution. Riverhead first adopted the waiver in June 2020, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive orders issued during the state of emergency prohibited indoor dining but allowed outdoor dining.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said during the meeting she would like to make outdoor dining permanent in downtown Riverhead.

“It is my hope, and hopefully the town board will join me and if we can make this resolution permanent to assist our residents. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that by the time that it expires,” Aguiar said.

The supervisor asked Riverhead Building and Planning Administrator Jefferson Murphree to “look into possibly making it a permanent.” She asked that the town have it in place prior to the expiration of the current waiver.

Murphree said he had already spoken about it with Riverhead Fire Marshal Craig Zitek, who “did advise some issues that we need to resolve, but I think they’re all fixable, so prior to the expiration of this extension we’ll have something in place.”

She asked Murphree to “do the resolution making it permanent.” He said he would make it a priority for the code committee.

“I think this is a great thing, because a lot of these businesses have already made provisions and put a lot of money into making outdoor seating areas,” Councilman Frank Beyrodt said before casting his vote in support. “I think is a great thing to continue.”

Councilwoman Catherine Kent agreed. “This is something that I always wanted to see — the outdoor outdoor dining and in our downtown area. I like the idea of moving forward with it permanently,” she said. Kent asked that the board discuss it during a work session before the permanent waiver comes to a vote.

Aguiar said Riverhead was “the pioneer” in establishing outdoor dining which it started “at the beginning of COVID.” She recalled being on the phone with Murphree throughout Memorial Day weekend last year. “We were calling each other at 10 o’clock at night trying to put the application online and get it going,” the supervisor said.

“We were the pioneer here in Riverhead and now it exists throughout the entire Suffolk County, which is a great thing and most of the other towns are now making it permanent,” Aguiar said.

Riverhead first adopted a resolution temporarily waiving restrictions on outdoor dining in the downtown area on June 2, 2020. The waiver expired Dec. 31 and the town board, on Jan. 20, extended the waiver through June 30.

The resolutions also authorize the building and planning administrator to suspend the $25 permit fees for sidewalk cafe applications.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.