Dining corrals were constructed Thursday in West Hartford Center and Blue Back Square and have resulted in several roads becoming one-way and reconfigured parking patterns.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford residents are facing a “new normal” precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the Center and Blue Back Square that means portions of several roadways have been turned into corrals for outdoor dining, and traffic patterns and parking spaces have been reconfigured.
Public Works crews worked throughout the day Thursday, setting up 20-foot concrete barriers and 6-foot water-filled plastic barriers designed to protect diners from motorists, and re-striping parking spaces on LaSalle Road, Farmington Avenue, Memorial Road, and Isham Road.
The outdoor dining corrals and roadway configurations (see PDFs below) are expected to remain in place at least through the end of October, town officials said.
Connecticut restaurants were permitted to expand beyond takeout and delivery to outdoor dining on May 20, and Gov. Ned Lamont’s Executive Order7MM, gave municipalities permission to relax some zoning regulations and permitting to expand and promote outdoor dining and retail, including use of public rights of way and roadways.
Multiple restrictions are incorporated into the outdoor dining plan, including that all tables must be separated by at least 6 feet (measured by the distance between chairs). Even when indoor dining is once again permitted – likely on June 20 – physical distancing and restriction of capacity to 50%, are likely to remain.
A working group of town staff, from a variety of departments including Public Works, Engineering, Police, and Zoning, spent several weeks developing a concept plan for expanded outdoor dining in West Hartford, and that plan was presented to the Town Council on May 18. After soliciting feedback from restaurants and retailers, and the Town Council’s Special Advisory Committee on Economic and Workforce Recovery, the plan was further refined and implementation began Thursday.
The outdoor dining corrals are intended to allow West Hartford’s restaurants to significantly increase capacity to serve patrons beyond their existing outdoor dining facilities, and also to add vibrancy and greater pedestrian access in the Center and Blue Back Square.
“I’m excited that we are at the point where we can set it up,” Town Manager Matt Hart said.
“I thank the mayor and the Town Council for challenging us to come up with a plan, and thank the team for setting this up,” said Hart.
“Since May 19, we’ve received 32 permit applications,” Zoning Enforcement Officer Brian Pudlick said.
Of the applications for expanded outdoor dining 14 were initially approved. Because the state requires a response within 10 days, and because some of the applications were requesting space in the new corrals before the plan had been completed, they were denied as a matter of procedure. Pudlick told We-Ha.com that he anticipates most of those restaurants will reapply now that the plan for the corrals has been established.
“My expectation is that in the coming days we will have updated applications from at least six,” Pudlick said earlier in the week.
Thus far, Pudlick said the following restaurants have applied for use of dining corrals in the Center or Blue Back Square: Division West, Hartford Baking Company, Max’s Oyster Bar, Shish Kebab House, Treva, Union Kitchen, Vinted, World of Beer, and Zohara. Among the expected applicants are Harvest, Bricco, and Savoy, Pudlick said, and there will likely be others.
In total, the temporary outdoor dining corrals will add seats for 763 additional diners at 188 tables in West Hartford Center and Blue Back Square, Pudlick said. Restaurants will be responsible for providing their own tables and chairs.
There is no plan to have physical dividers within the corrals, even if they are being used by more than one restaurant, Pudlick said, but the use of different tables and chairs delineate the specific restaurant and avoid overlap.
The capacity was determined based on physical distancing requirements, and Pudlick said that the space in the corrals will be divided equally among the restaurant in that area that have requested permits for space. “We expect this will be a fluid situation and we can change based on demand,” he said.
Eleven separate on-street outdoor dining corrals have been created out of 71 parking spaces. A conversion to angled spaces on Farmington Avenue, in place of the parallel parking spaces, has added back 18 spaces, so a net of 53 spaces have been lost, Assistant Town Engineering Greg Sommer said.
The most significant changes for drivers include:
- LaSalle Road between Arapahoe and Farmington Avenue is now one way, northbound only.
- Access to the “Farmington Avenue” public parking lot from LaSalle Road has been temporarily eliminated. Entrance to the lot (Zone 475) is from Farmington Avenue only, and traffic will continue to exit onto South Main Street.
- Farmington Avenue is reduced to one lane in each direction between Dale Street and South Main Street.
- Memorial Road between Isham Road and Raymond Road is now one-way eastbound.
- Isham Road is now one-way southbound from New Street to Memorial Road.
In addition to Farmington Avenue parking being switched to angled spaces, LaSalle Road spaces have been changed to head-out angled parking – requiring the motorist to back into the space, giving the driver a greater field of vision when leaving. Head-out angled parking is used in 32 major cities, and studies indicated that it is safer, easier, and more accommodating for unloading, town officials said.
On-street parking will remain free for the near future, with 15-minute designated spaces in certain areas and 30-minute free parking elsewhere. The free parking will be evaluated in advance of the expected Phase 2 reopening plan on June 20. On-street kiosks will continue to indicate 30-minute free parking, town officials said.
Anyone parking for more than 30 minutes – including diners, shoppers, clients, and employees, is asked to use the off-street municipal lots or parking garages.
Outdoor dining has also bee expanded in other parts of West Hartford.
Numerous estaurants outside of West Hartford Center and Blue Back Square have also applied for either new or expanded outdoor dining, Pudlick said.
Pudlick said he has reviewed and approved applications for Blue Plate Kitchen, Butterfly, Effie’s Place, Fernwood, Frida, Goldroc Diner, Ocho Cafe, and Red Robin. He is also working on plans with Rockledge Grille and Nummy.
Initial plans called for dining corrals on South Main Street as well, but feedback from area businesses indicated more of a need for maintaining the existing number of parking spaces for “grab and go accessibility,” Economic Development Specialist Kristen Gorski said. “If there will be a need in the future we would be open to another concept to find a happy balance,” she said.
Hart said that he’s happy to have reached the implementation stage after receiving feedback from restaurants and retailers. He urged the community to continue to support local businesses.
“We recognize that we’re still in the midst of this pandemic, and we urge people to remain safe,” Hart said. Signage has been added, and will soon be followed with a banner on the Town Green, reminding people to wear masks or face coverings in the Center and Blue Back Square, and to maintain physical distancing to the extent possible.
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