N.J. restaurants may have to get new outdoor dining permits as officials worry about fire and snow

Posted Nov 30, 2020

As New Jersey’s cold winter begins setting in, restaurants with outdoor dining bubbles or igloos who want to extend outdoor dining may have to apply for new permits, state officials say.

The state Department of Community Affairs last week said restaurants and other establishments with tents or other “outdoor domes” that are more than 120-square-feet had to apply for a Uniform Construction Codes permit by Monday.

The new guidelines are to make sure the domes and canopies that typically have to come down at the end of November will be able to handle snow and other winter conditions between Dec. 1 and March 30, the new guidance states.

The agency also urged municipalities to waive permit fees for tents and restaurants that meet the requirements to ease the stress on the business owners.

“We recognize the restaurants in our state have been hit extraordinarily hard by the pandemic. We are doing everything we can to help these businesses stay afloat until we can return to more normalcy,” said Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement. “The guidance issued ... is part of our effort to help ease the burden this pandemic has placed on eating establishments. We are leaving no stone unturned as we work to assist the restaurant community.”

One of the hardest hit industries during the coronavirus pandemic, restaurants have been grappling with changing requirements while remaining at 25% capacity for indoor dining. And local ordinances on outdoor dining have caused confusion over what rules apply to which establishments.

“It benefits everybody to try and do whatever we can to keep restaurants open and operating safely,” said Marilou Halvorsen, president of the N.J. Restaurant and Hospitality Association.

She noted that one restaurant owner with locations across different towns had to pay the fee in one municipality, but not the other.

“Ultimately, by the business being open, it’s bringing income to the town. And tents have been up since last year, so it’s nothing new and this is just extending the use,” Halvorsen said.

Michele Siekerka, CEO of the NJ Business and Industry Administration, echoed that municipalities should be flexible and suspend fees where they can.

“We should remember that in addition to having less revenue due to restrictions this year, many restaurants have already made significant investments in the first place just to arrange for outdoor dining through the purchase of tents, dining domes or other barriers,” she said. “Any and every little bit of cost-savings and red-tape reduction will help in these establishment’s efforts to survive.”

State officials also warned restaurants using portable cooking equipment or propane heat lamps to stay within Uniform Fire Code and local regulations.

“Today’s guidance demonstrates our commitment to ensuring a safe outdoor dining experience while working with business owners to meet their needs,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver.

Domes and tents less than 120 square feet won’t need a permit, according to the guidance, and all structures regardless of size should be able to be deconstructed daily and secured in case of emergency evacuations.

In order to provide enough time for permit and applications to process, municipalities can also grant two-week extensions from the Nov. 30 deadline to remove the tent, as long as the business has filed a snow plan along with the permit application that would be put into effect in the case of bad weather.

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published this page in News and Politics 2020-12-01 03:31:54 -0800