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Alfresco Dining May Aid Restaurants’ Season

Five Mile Island Mayors Urge: Don't Relocate Due to COVID-19

By Shay Roddy

To access the Herald’s local coronavirus/COVID-19 coverage, click here.
NORTH WILDWOOD – Two mayors of the Wildwoods are fighting to not allow the coronavirus to damage their municipalities’ most important time of the year.
North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello and Wildwood Mayor Peter Byron­ are discussing ways to create a resolution that would allow restaurants and bars to add sidewalk-style outdoor seating and seating in adjacent parking lots this summer. The plans would allow social distancing while maintaining economic feasibility.
The current zoning restrictions would be relaxed for this summer only to allow restaurants – which Gov. Phil Murphy said might be forced to reopen at 50% capacity when eventually allowed dine-in seating – a viable chance to operate in the black for 2020.
“Some unacceptable percentage of restaurants would go under. The math just doesn’t work for most places,” Rosenello said, in a phone interview with the Herald.
“We felt it would be better to be proactive versus reactive,” Wildwood Mayor Byron said, in a separate interview. “We understand this is going to be a very, very difficult summer. We want to give them every tool we can for them to be successful, even during these horrible times.”
Governor Details Potential Changes
Murphy detailed how he envisions restaurants opening, in an interview with Harry Hurley, on WPG-FM.
“When they open, they open at 50% capacity, not 100%, and each table has to be X-feet away from the other one,” Murphy said. “That’s a very specific example of how I think we need to sort of begin to get back on our feet.”
Murphy added that he doesn’t believe a different capacity level will be the stand-alone change in dine-in restaurant service this summer.
“Here’s what’s different,” he began, “there’s someone at the front door with one of these instant thermometers who gives you a quick scan to make sure you’re not running a fever. You get inside, workers probably are, at least conceivably, masked and wearing gloves. They sanitize the tables more aggressively and more frequently. I’m not marrying myself to this.” 
Hope for the Summer
In an interview April 9, with “CBS This Morning,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said summer vacations for Americans “could be in the cards” this year. With that news, from one of the most influential and conservatively optimistic voices in the White House Coronavirus Task Force, North Wildwood and Wildwood are ahead of the curve, preparing for what could be a new reality, so they can salvage any fraction of their normal summer economic season.
“I think everybody is encouraged by those comments, but there’s going to be changes,” said Rosenello, who has a stake in two boardwalk restaurants. “There’s going to be a new normal. We’re trying to be proactive, have this in place, so when the restrictions are lifted, we’re giving our businesses the best chance of survival for the coming year.”
Plan Details
The mayors have conversed about the idea for two weeks with their shared zoning board solicitor and the municipalities’ attorneys. According to the mayors, restaurants would be permitted to operate in the expanded outdoor areas from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Businesses serving alcohol would be permitted to serve at their outdoor tables, provided the ABC is cooperative with the cities, in temporarily amending liquor licenses.
Restaurants and bars would have to submit a plan to their city’s zoning office, detailing where they would put the tables and how they would be laid out, with none allowed to block foot traffic. They would only be allowed on sidewalks or in adjacent parking lots owned by the business.
They would also have to prove that each seat they propose outside is replacing a seat inside. In other words, restaurants couldn’t grow their capacity through this zoning exception.
“One for one,” Byron said.
Rosenello said he expects the resolution would need to be amended based on some trial and error, and as the restrictions caused by the virus develop.
On the Boardwalk
Rosenello, who is also the executive director of the Special Improvement District, which represents boardwalk businesses, says the vast majority of the boardwalk’s full-service restaurants are on corners, and they are looking into allowing restaurants to add seating along the side of the restaurant near the ramp.
Byron said they could potentially use a parking lot in the rear of the business, but said boardwalk restaurants would not be allowed to set up seating in the sand across the boardwalk from their business.
To contact Shay Roddy, email sroddy@cmcherald.com.

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