Daniel Larlham, Jr. is a communications major at the University of Delaware.
NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the vote and the fact it’s a renewal, not a new ordinance.
The Newark City Council Thursday night unanimously approved the extension of an ordinance that allows the city manager to approve restaurant requests to expand outside, including onto property they don’t own.
The ordinance had expired after its 61-day period for another 61 days.
The move is part of efforts to help restaurants, which were forced to close in March because of COVID-19, be able to serve more people and make more money.
“Yes they (restaurants) can expand in front of other businesses,” said Newark Mayor Jerry Clifton in a text, “with the property owners’ permission, i.e., Taverna in front of Citizens Bank.”
“This bill is effectively the same as the last one,” said Tom Coleman, the city manager.
The bill specifically mentions alleyways and reverses a city ordinance that prevents the amplification of sound.
Ryan German, owner of Caffé Gelato, has been a vocal advocate for more outdoor dining and said Thursday he wanted to make sure the ordinance was renewed. He believes more people want to eat in moving fresh air, instead of indoors, because that lowers the risk of being infected by COVID-19.
“I’ve been a proponent of outdoor seating for a while,” said German. “Keeping it is important. That’s what tonight’s vote is about.”
The rule speeds up the process in getting expansions approved.
The ordinance grants Newark City Manager Tom Coleman the power to grant, deny or revoke applications to expand outdoor seating to restaurants. Without that, the process requires formal reviews that take time.
“I’ve approved 11 restaurants for seating outside,” said Coleman.
The move is especially important to restaurants in the wake of the University of Delaware announcing most fall classes will be online. That means fewer people in Newark, home to the university, and fewer bodies in the restaurants.
Many diners have wondered what will happen to outdoor dining when the weather cools off.
During the discussion about the bill, one person said the city’s fire chief is working with one restaurant on finding a solution about how to safely heat the outside areas with propane. The person did not name the restaurant.
German hopes the city will be able to capitalize on UD’s population downturn by offering more nights devoted to dining outside.
In Wilmington, Market Street restaurants say Curbside Wilmington’s Friday night events, which close the 800 block for outdoor dining, have brought in business and energy.
“We want to do more al fresco dining nights,” German said. “Right now we have one more planned for next Wednesday but we want to get more planned soon. The community really seems to like them.”