Outdoor Dining Regulations Extended through December 2021

Reading, MA — The Select Board voted 5-0 on December 8 to amend its outdoor dining policy, extending the current policy’s expiration date to December 31, 2021. This action will allow businesses to begin to plan for the spring dining season with an understanding as to what will be and will not be permitted. Economic Development Director Erin Schaeffer described the interim solution as “important as restaurants are looking for solutions for the next season.” Chair Mark Dockser continued, “It is critical that we allow outdoor dining plans to start ASAP.” Town Manager Robert LeLacheur shared that the board does not have the authority to extend restaurants’ outdoor liquor licenses until the legislature acts.

Schaeffer also suggested that the board consider delegating its regulatory authority to the Community Planning and Development Commission (CPDC) to review Tier 2 outdoor use applications on public land. This would aid businesses as the CPDC is already equipped to do this type of review for private land usage and has processes in place to handle these requests. While members of the board were generally open to the concept, Dockser, in particular, expressed a desire that the Select Board maintain the “final word” regarding the use of public parking areas. The board also indicated that it would be open to businesses using the “parklet” concept to expand outdoor dining options. The board will discuss the issue at a later date.

The Select Board addressed the question of beer and wine only package store licenses in town. Currently, these licenses are not allowed in Reading. The discussion arose as a local convenience store has asked the board to consider the idea. Town Meeting rejected the concept in 2016. If the town chose this path under current rules, it would create five such licenses in town.

Dockser indicated that he did not feel that the additional licenses would best serve the town, and did not see the need for further discussion. “We need to allow businesses to adapt, but I am not in favor of more licenses.” Select Board member Karen Herrick indicated. “I am struggling to balance the two.”

Members Vanessa Alvarado, Carlo Bacci, and Anne Landry indicated that they would welcome the discussion with Alvarado suggesting that input from interested parties such as the Police Chief and the Reading Coalition for Prevention and Abuse would be useful. Landry also suggested feedback from the Chamber of Commerce and the owner of the store requesting the action. LaLacheur indicated that he would seek the input the board is seeking.

Town Counsel indicated that any action would likely have to go before town meeting again, then be approved by the legislature. She also indicated that the town would likely receive additional package store licenses after the decennial census numbers are known as the number of these available licenses is determined by population. Town Council also reminded the board that a business could apply for an all-alcohol package store license and only offer wine and beer.

The Select Board voted 5-0 to approve the renewal of all the current liquor license holders in town. It also voted 5-0 to reappoint Carol Roberts to the Retirement Board. The board decided to ask Dockser to send a letter to Reading’s legislative delegation in the statehouse encouraging the extension of mail-in voting options for the April local election. Town Clerk Laura Gemme reported that sixty percent of Reading’s turnout in the November election was by mail-in ballots.

The Select Board adjourned at 11:20 pm.

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