The Town Council wants to make outdoor dining–a popular COVID-19 relief measure for businesses–a permanent part of the community.
The town referred a motion to the Bylaw Subcommittee to study a proposal to allowing permanent outdoor dining for restaurants in North Attleborough. The current rules for outdoor dining passed by the Massachusetts legislature in 2020 will expire on April 1.
The motion was passed 7-0, with councilors Kathleen Prescott and Patrick Reynolds absent from the meeting.
Council President Justin Pare introduced the measure during the meeting after Town Manager Michael Borg explained how other municipalities implemented their own rules about outdoor dining.
The councilors all agreed to the sudden proposal, with some expressing excitement over the prospect of permanently expanding the relief.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Councilor Mark Gould. “It will promote business downtown. It’s got people doing business during COVID and it’s nice to see those positive rules in place.”
Councilor Dan Donovan also expressed interest in the idea and said it was a matter of economic growth. He suggested sending the same motion to the Economic Development Subcommittee but opted to wait until it was reviewed by the Bylaw Subcommittee at the recommendation of Councilor Darius Gregory.
“As long as there’s an actual conversation about this amongst those committees, it doesn’t matter which one it is sent to right now,” Gregory said. “It’s going to go through the same process either way.”
The legislature passed expanded outdoor dining in 2020 as a relief measure for restaurants struggling during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan to keep establishments open while mitigating the spread of the virus by sitting outside became instantly popular, with some restaurants seeing an increase in customers during the spring and summer months.
The legislature plans to extend outdoor dining rules until 2024 according to language written in a supplementary budget bill passed by the House and Senate.
Some municipalities are preparing for an eventual lapse of the rules by implementing outdoor dining rules as part of their bylaws.
Still, it will take time for North Attleborough to make outdoor dining permanent. The council will need to hold open meetings with businesses and the Board of Health to receive feedback and establish guidelines for outdoor dining in the town.
“Not all the restaurants might have the same logistics,” Councilor Andrea Slobogan said. “This is going to be part of a larger conversation.”