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Sidewalk dining in downtown Riverhead and Jamesport hamlet will be made permanent and cost-free for restaurants, if the Riverhead Town Board adopts a code change under consideration.

The town had temporarily allowed outdoor dining for restaurants during the COVID-19 crisis last year, when pandemic restrictions imposed by the governor banned indoor dining.

Sidewalk dining would be allowed from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. The proposed code would require that the dining area be no more than 6 feet from the restaurant, unless approved by the fire marshal, and be set back at least 4 feet from the edge of the sidewalk.

The new code would not allow outdoor dining at restaurants along Route 58 and Sound Avenue, which benefited from the temporary law’s allowance of outdoor seating in parking lots.

Building and Planning Administrator Jefferson Murphree presented the proposed code revision, to the town board to at its work session Thursday. 

Aguiar asked Murphree for the code change at the beginning of July, when the town board approved the extension of the temporary law to Sept. 30. 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 prior resolution authorized Murphree to suspend the $25 fee for the applications. The application fee is set to $150 in the draft, however Aguiar asked Murphree to waive the fee for the new permits as well. 

The draft also changes the authority to issue permits from the town board to the fire marshal. Murphree said both the building department and the fire marshal agreed to the change, but that town hall would provide help with the paperwork of the permits. The permit will be annual and require an annual inspection. 

The whole board spoke positively of the law.

“I appreciate the work you put into this Jeff,” Councilman Tim Hubbard said. “It is just a nice look to the downtown and it drives visitors to outside dining and it’s one thing that is always lacking. We are always against it for some reason or another.”

“It’s a good opportunity for business owners who have been struggling through these really difficult times to do a little bit more,” Councilman Frank Beyrodt said.

“This was a lifeline during COVID for a lot of those restaurants,” Councilman Ken Rothwell said. “And so we want to make sure they’re aware that we’ll do everything we can to assist them.”

“I thought this is a perfect opportunity [COVID] for us to try out this outside dining and I love seeing it,” Councilwoman Catherine Kent said. “I agree that it’s just really nice for the town. I think people enjoy being outside and I think it’s been good for restaurants and helped get them going.”

“There is no way to recoup the losses from this from the pandemic, just as anybody in business knows that,” said Bob Kern, president of the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce. “So allowing this to be permanent, and to Tim’s point about just what it looks like, I think is incredibly significant.”

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]