Outdoor Dining Issues Continue for Select Board

Reading, MA — The Select Board continued to seek avenues to mitigate the impact of Venetian Moon’s outdoor dining tent located in the parking area on Main Street adjacent to the restaurant. The Board has come under criticism for closing the parking area, which also services several other businesses, without notice to those businesses. The board’s policy for outdoor dining applications called for the applicant to inform abutters of any possible changes. While Venetian Moon informed adjacent neighbors, others further down the street were unaware of the coming closing. Dr. Jane Harrison of the Middlesex Animal Hospital implored the board, “Please don’t make [other businesses] pay for your hasty decision.”

Several possible plans have been proposed to local business owners since the board’s last meeting. Member Carlo Bacci, who has been involved in these discussions, suggested that the board require the removal of the tent by the end of July and that Venetian Moon be offered the sidewalks and parking spaces in front of their building as well as along its Woburn Street side for “parklets” or spaces for tables and chairs with umbrellas, but not tents. The parklets could possibly provide as many as ten outdoor tables to the restaurant. Bacci also suggested that the handicapped space in front of Venetian Moon be temporarily moved to another location and that negotiations with the MBTA continue to temporarily move the bus stop on the corner of Main Street and Woburn Street to another location, possibly further down Woburn Street. Bacci stated that he had spoken with the owner of the Tin Bucket store on Woburn Street who accepted the temporary arrangement. Select Board Chair Mark Dockser also suggested that lots which have been underutilized during the pandemic, such as those at town hall and the First Baptist Church, could be used by employees, to ease parking problems in the downtown.

After discussion, Dockser proposed the date of August 3 for removal of the tent, this would give Venetian Moon the remainder of the month to do business under the current conditions as well as provide the restaurant three weeks to determine how to proceed after that point. August had been mentioned by Harrison as a very busy month for her business. This idea prompted a continued and lengthy discussion. 

Member Karen Herrick expressed the concern that the board had already given permission to use the space to Venetian Moon and that she did not want to “pull the rug out from under them.” Both Herrick and member Vanessa Alvarado also wished to get a sense from Venetian Moon about the parklets and other proposals moving forward before voting on any changes, Alvarado concerned about “again making a decision without all the relevant information.” Bacci pressed for a vote on the August 3 date recognizing, “We’re not going to keep everyone happy.”

The Select Board intends to vote on amending Venetian Moon’s outdoor dining license at its July 21 meeting. The board instructed town staff to inform the businesses of the upcoming vote and to share the revised plans with business owners for feedback. The board did vote 5-0 to amend its policy to require the town to notify abutters when an outdoor dining application has been made, rather than relying on business owners to do so.

The Board received a tax classification and senior tax relief update from Chief Appraiser Victor Santaniello. It adopted a timeline for the town manager’s review and created plans to go over the town manager’s goals for the coming year at its upcoming retreat. Economic Development Director Erin Schaeffer updated the board on a new $300,000 grant for small businesses that she has applied for, as well as the state sales tax holiday August 29-30. The board also voted 5-0 to amend policies for the Department of Public Works.

The Select Board adjourned at 11:05 pm.

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