Select Board to Discuss Outdoor Dining

Reading, MA — Following a November 23 discussion with the Community Planning and Development Commission (CPDC), the Select Board, at its December 8 meeting, intends to discuss plans for permitting businesses to conduct outdoor commerce, dining, programming, or storage this coming spring.

CPDC has been working to offer a zoning bylaw amendment on the issue for Town Meeting consideration in April. The proposed amendment would rework the definition of certain outdoor retail uses as “accessory” uses, thus allowing them to be considered by the CPDC as minor site plan reviews. Director of Development Julie Mercier explained that this change would “Create a path for businesses to use their outdoor space more flexibly.”

As businesses prepared to reopen this past spring, during COVID-19 restrictions, there was no mechanism in place for them to offer outdoor options. As a result, the Select Board had to adopt emergency allowances for outdoor dining and other uses. The proposed amendment intends to make the process smoother and more convenient for businesses moving forward, even after the COVID situation dissipates. A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for January 11.

Town Manager Robert LeLachuer, in a memo to the Select Board, suggested that this is an opportunity for the board to cede its authority concerning outdoor dining to the CPDC on either a trial or permanent basis. LeLacheur echoed concerns expressed by Select Board members at the CPDC meeting regarding a gap between when businesses would prefer to apply and prepare for outdoor dining and possible approval of the zoning bylaw amendment by Town Meeting. At the CPDC meeting, Mercier suggested that the Select Board may have to enact another round of temporary measures to guide businesses who are planning for spring during the winter.

The Select Board agenda for the Tuesday, December 8 meeting schedules the issue for 8:30 pm.

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