Rhinebeck explores how to bring seats back to the sidewalk

During the summers of 2020 and 2021, barriers severed parts of the road in downtown Rhinebeck, tables lined the sidewalks, and residents and tourists could grab a bite to eat in the fresh air.

But this summer, sidewalk seating is not a given as restaurants ask to bring it back for the season and the Village changes its overall plan to address the long-term future of outdoor dining.

In March, a restaurant group in the village of Rhinebeck launched a Change.org petition to bring back sidewalk seating — not street seating — and garnered more than 2,100 signatures in support of the measure, which the group presented to the village council.

“It’s extremely important to all of us at Samuel. I know I speak for most restaurants in Rhinebeck and many stores and retailers that having outdoor seating and sidewalks and more activity on the street was definitely beneficial,” said John Traver , manager of Samuel’s Sweet Shop on East Market Street. “It’s inspiring more economic activity in downtown Rhinebeck.”

Traver said outdoor dining also increases feelings of safety among those who choose to step away from indoor dining and shopping since the pandemic. “Many are trying to navigate this new inner normal,” he said.

And for Samuel, indoor dining isn’t offered in the small shop, which means having tables outside is the only option.

But curbside seating isn’t as simple as it sounds.

“The bottom line is that even though the emergency orders allowed us to do a lot of things very quickly, the emergency orders are no longer in place,” said village administrator Lydia Slaby, who was part of the group. Rhinebeck Al fresco dining workbook in 2021.

The state’s COVID-19 emergency order relaxed restrictions and zoning requirements from the State Liquor Authority and state and county health departments to allow municipalities like Rhinebeck to quickly transition to outdoor seating for help keep the restaurant industry afloat and the public safe during the pandemic.

With COVID numbers dwindling and restrictions returning to pre-pandemic levels, Slaby said the village needs to think about how to reorganize around this issue. For this summer, that means working with the local Chamber of Commerce to come up with a scaled-down, short-term plan that calls for a few tables right next to a building, with at least five feet of walking space still available on the sidewalk to accommodate. accessibility requirements. There will be no jersey barriers to sit on the road.

Slaby said the plan could be approved in time for Memorial Day weekend, which typically kicks off the summer travel season in Rhinebeck and elsewhere.

People who signed the petition shared their thoughts on why they supported curbside seating, including wanting to eat out as a COVID safety measure and finding it brings a certain charm to Rhinebeck.

“While we all love to eat outdoors…we need to make this a public process that invites input from anyone with ideas,” Slaby said. “We can’t just unilaterally change our zoning laws without inviting the public. Now that we know we all really like it as a community for the most part, we just have to figure out a way to allow it long term.

Long term, the village is reviewing its overall plan to determine how to move forward with outdoor seating in the years to come. Slaby said the draft of the new comprehensive plan will be presented to village administrators this winter, with a public review process to follow.

In the meantime, establishments with private land are invited to submit a new site plan that uses their outdoor space for the public.

“Gary (Bassett, the Mayor of Rhinebeck) and I are very supportive of the community and the cohesion that the outdoor restaurants and retail businesses have brought to the village,” Slaby said. “To have dinner on a Wednesday evening and see your neighbors passing by is wonderful. We’re all for figuring this out, it’s just a lot more complicated than the magic wand we waved two years ago.

“Outdoor seating has an uplifting effect on people’s moods,” Taver said. “I love walking around Rhinebeck and seeing people eating and drinking outside and enjoying themselves.”

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