Wilton considers developing outdoor dining regulations

Photo of J.D. Freda
The Wilton Planning and Zoning Commission is tentatively expecting to draft its own outdoor dining regulations by late April.

The Wilton Planning and Zoning Commission is tentatively expecting to draft its own outdoor dining regulations by late April.

Patricia Gay /Hearst Connecticut Media

WILTON — The Planning and Zoning Commission is considering developing its own outdoor regulations for restaurants and small businesses once the governor’s COVID executive orders expire.

Many restaurants with outdoor dining, including those in Wilton, are using temporary permits allowed under Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive orders. With the governor’s executive orders due to expire in April, local municipalities are considering whether to adopt their own regulations for outdoor dining and retail to continue.

“I think we need to (add) a realistic and well-defined outdoor dining component to our regulations,” Rick Tomasetti, chairman of the Wilton Planning and Zoning Commission, said at last week’s meeting. “With the understanding on how it impacts parking, etc. I think it's long overdue.”

The commission is keeping the public hearing of an extension of outdoor dining regulations for restaurants open until the state provides an update.

“This extension would allow for those that don’t fall under that executive order if it goes away,” Town Planner Michael Wrinn said. “I hope (the executive order) stays, because you’re not sure, I’m not sure, even the health director is not sure where this pandemic is going. We may have people that will not want to go inside a month from now if things get bad.”

Wilton’s situation is different, however, from many other municipalities. In Wilton’s case, all of the outdoor dining space has been set up on private property.

“Because they are all on private property, they were able to go to the board and get permission for outdoor dining,” Wrinn said. “We have a good dozen that have received your permission for outdoor dining. That being said, those would have to restrict their dining to what was deemed appropriate by the commission in the past.”

Wrinn used the example of Marly’s, located on Old Ridgefield Road in Wilton Center, that has not been able to use its second-floor outdoor dining space under orders from Lamont or the commission. Marly’s would need to come back to the commission to ask permission to use its full outdoor capacity moving forward.

Other restaurants may fall under a similar category, Wrinn explained.

However, Wrinn said the town’s health director, Barrington A. Bogle, raised concerns about that scenario.

“If he has the governor’s executive orders, it gives him some leeway under his regulations,” Wrinn said. “If it all goes through the health department, then the standards are different.”

Commissioner Florence Johnson agreed with Tomasetti that an outdoor dining plan should be prioritized for thw town’s master plan.

Wrinn said outdoor retail would also be included in this extension. The town planner asked about a dozen small business owners, asking if they would need outdoor space this summer.

One retail business responded during the public hearing portion of last week’s meeting.

“We absolutely need outdoor space, same as last year,” Wrinn read on behalf of Happy Hands Art and Pottery on River Road.