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Town of West Hartford Planning for Expanded Outdoor Dining and Retail During 2021

West Hartford's outdoor dining corrals, like these along LaSalle Road, have been very popular throughout the warm weather months. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor will be proposing an ordinance to ensure that West Hartford’s expanded outdoor dining and retail will be able to continue throughout 2021, even if the state doesn’t extend the emergency order that allows for zoning regulations to be relaxed.

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West Hartford Mayor Shari G. Cantor announced Wednesday that she is proposing an ordinance that would extend West Hartford’s highly successful outdoor dining and retail program through the end of 2021.

“Our vibrant restaurant and retail community is one of West Hartford’s most important assets,” said Cantor. “I am committed to doing everything we can to help our small businesses continue to provide a safe and enjoyable experience for consumers.”

Using his emergency powers, Gov. Ned Lamont has temporarily modified certain state and local laws in order to expand outdoor dining and retail during the pandemic of COVID-19. Under the emergency rules, West Hartford allowed restaurants and retailers to expand into sidewalks and roadways, including popular new outdoor eating areas on LaSalle Road and Farmington Avenue. However, the governor’s current emergency declaration expires on April 20.

LaSalle Road outdoor dining corrals. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

The dining corrals were removed for the season on Nov. 16.

Town Manager Matt Hart said he is hopeful that the legislature or the governor will extend the emergency rules before they expire. In the meantime, he said it is important for West Hartford restaurants and retailers to have a clear understanding of how they can operate during the outdoor months of 2021.

“Our restaurants and retailers have been loud and clear – they need predictability in order to invest in equipment and properly plan for the upcoming outdoor season,” said Hart. “We have heard their concerns, and the proposed ordinance should give businesses confidence that West Hartford’s outdoor dining and retail program will continue in much the same manner for 2021.”

The proposed ordinance will be introduced at the regular Town Council meeting on March 9, when it will be referred to the Town Plan and Zoning Commission and set for a public hearing. Hart said it’s important to begin the local legislative process now in case the state fails to act before the current emergency rules expire.

“The concept is simple – In West Hartford, we will continue the outdoor program enabled by Governor Lamont’s executive orders through the end of 2021,” said Hart.

Mayor Cantor said she is interested in making some of the changes permanent, but more time is necessary to study the issue, including roadway and sidewalk design, infrastructure needs, permit fees, and accessibility issues. Under the proposed ordinance, the Town Manager would be required to recommend permanent changes to the Town Council by Oct. 1.

“A silver lining of the pandemic is that it allowed us to experiment with new outdoor dining and entertainment options, and I have heard from so many residents about how much they enjoyed the new outdoor experience,” said Mayor Cantor. “The proposed ordinance gives local businesses the stability they need, while giving us time to evaluate and implement exciting long term changes for the future.”

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