LENOX — With the outdoor dining season on the horizon, town leaders are tightening up on rules and regulations affecting not only restaurants, but also retail establishments.
At Wednesday’s Select Board meeting, Chief Administrative Officer Christopher Ketchen predicted a busier summer than last year, when a special town meeting adopted a seasonal bylaw to help restaurants cope with coronavirus pandemic restrictions by offering outdoor dining.
The revised six-month rules for this summer take effect May 1. They prohibit the use of parking spaces and also require that all restaurants offering outdoor dining must leave a 4-foot corridor on the sidewalk for pedestrians.
Restaurant and retail proprietors must apply to Town Hall for a permit only if they plan to use the sidewalk, green space between the sidewalk and the road, and/or town property.
Each permit requires approval by the Select Board after a site visit by Ketchen and at least one board member. The conduct of the permit holder has to satisfy him as well as Police Chief Stephen O’Brien and can be revoked, if necessary, Ketchen pointed out.
“Admittedly, we were quite lenient and lax last year,” Ketchen acknowledged. But, eased restrictions on indoor dining allow the town “to ratchet back a little bit, compared with what was allowed last year,” he said.
As for enforcement, Selectman Edward Lane emphasized that he doesn’t want “the Lenox Police Department to become the dining police and walk around in uniform” to ensure compliance with the rules.
“I think that’s a little confrontational at times,” he said.
Ketchen told the board that “I would be happy to have you designate me as the enforcement agent; I hear what you’re saying.”
Alcohol can be consumed with a meal downtown at Lilac Park, Triangle Park and Roche Reading Park adjacent to the library, from May 1 to Nov. 1.
Open containers on streets, sidewalks and any town property outside the three parks remain prohibited.
The town will provide three temporary hand-washing sinks throughout the central business district. Three public-accessible bathrooms are available at Town Hall.
Several tents will be available during inclement weather.
The board also is requiring restaurateurs to have “an adequate trash disposal plan and must play an active role in monitoring trash around their outdoor dining space,” Select Board Chairman Neal Maxymillian declared.
Also on Wednesday night, the Select Board voted to hold the annual town meeting outdoors at 5 p.m. June 29 at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School. It will be the second summer of an alfresco meeting because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The goal for the late June scheduling was to hold the session in maximum daylight, with the hope of favorable weather.
In order to prepare for a meeting with multiple, especially significant agenda items, Lane proposed that board members hold a public working session “kick ideas off each other and plan how we’re going to go about things so we’re all working together.”
“Some town meetings go off smoothly, and others don’t, so, I think preparation is the key to the whole thing,” he commented.
Selectman David Roche urged a return to in-person public meetings at Town Hall “whenever everyone feels comfortable. The sooner we can get back to meeting in person, I think, the more effective the board becomes.”
Ketchen voiced enthusiasm for the traditional working session, pointing out that he and the Town Hall staff would benefit as part of the lead-up to the town meeting.
“I think it will be very productive,” he said. The date for that working session remains to be scheduled.