Photo: Belmont Center restaurant The Wellington is one of many eateries that will soon be adding outdoor dining
Al fresco dining is coming to Belmont as the Select Board approved outdoor seating for restaurants in Belmont Center to aid local eateries as the state begins cautiously removing restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The plans OK’d at the board’s June 8 meeting calls for closing Leonard Street through Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 7 with a 15-foot emergency access lane in the center of the street for fire apparatus and police vehicles.
Leonard Street would be closed “24/7” from Alexander Avenue to Moore Street beginning in the next few weeks with traffic detoured primarily through the Claflin Street municipal parking lot and onto Channing Road.
With the closure, restaurants and retail stores will be able to expand their operations onto the sidewalk and onto the street in front of their businesses.
“I think this will be a fun summer … like a several month long Town Day,” said Adam Dash, member of the Select Board which approved closing Leonard Street and adopted the new outdoor seating rules.
The outdoor seating will be required to be six-feet apart due to existing state and local COVID-19 restrictions unless the eatery provides a barrier seperating the tables that is acceptable to the Belmont Health Department.
“I think it’s the least we can do to support the businesses in this time of crisis,” said Dash. Massachusetts restaurants have been effectively shut down since the state shutdown all non-essential businesses in mid-March, surviving on take-out orders.
Gov. Charlie Baker earlier in the day included restaurants as part of the state’s Phase 2, Part 1 reopening in which restaurants can start serving diners outside in groups of 6 or fewer customers.
Belmont’s Glenn Clancy, director of the Office of Community Development, said he and his staff looked at how Waltham has modified Moody Street in the city center that has its own emergency access roadway. After discussions with public safety and the town’s Public Works Department, it was deemed Leonard Street was the only road that could be closed without causing a great deal of traffic disruption.
“I think we’re ready to dive into this and start working with the restaurant owners and business owners to get this thing moving,” said Clancy.
While Belmont Center will be the showcase for outdoor dining, restaurants in other parts of town- such as along Trapelo Road which can’t be shuttered due to its heavy level of daily traffic – will be allowed to move onto sidewalks. One potential headache according to Town Administrator Patrice Garvin is that traffic bypassing the center will drift into nearby residential neighborhood.
Damian de Magistris, one of the owners of both il Casale and The Wellington said by all appearances the town is moving in the right direction . de Magistris also wanted the town to know that even if each restaurant – both closed for 75 days – could place 10 tables outside, that would provide about 16 percent of the eateries pre-COVID revenue.
“So the outdoor space is absolutely critical” not just for the economic survival of the businesses but building “consumer confidence in a responsible way by encouraging people to gather in a safe place,” said de Magistris.