Sprucing Up Hamlets with Outdoor Dining

Posted on 26 May 2009

The photos pinned to the wall of the Southampton Town Board meeting room on Tuesday evening showed pleasing and inviting scenes of the Southampton Village streetscape. Each of the five pictures highlighted a different village restaurant’s bustling outdoor dining area, where patrons noshed on meals while basking in the sun as pedestrians walked by.

These photographs weren’t snapped by a professional photographer hired by the restaurants, but were in fact taken by town councilwoman Nancy Graboski who, along with councilman Christ Nuzzi, has spearheaded a campaign to allow outdoor dining throughout the town. Graboski presented the photos, which she took over Memorial Day Weekend, at a Southampton Town Board meeting to show the board the acclimating quality of outdoor seating.

Employing the help of deputy town attorney Kathleen Murray, Nuzzi and Graboski drafted legislation to allow outdoor sidewalk dining. The draft law was modeled after similar legislation found in Southampton Village.

“This is a law to create a license so that restaurants can put a few tables on the sidewalk,” explained Graboski. “It is consistent with the resort nature of our town. This will help keep our hamlets viable in this difficult economy. One major goal of the 1999 comprehensive plan was to be sensitive to the viability of our hamlet centers and this will help us do that.”

According to Graboski, the new law will apply to the Southampton Town hamlet’s of Bridgehampton, Hampton Bays, Water Mill and East Quogue and will help promote economic sustainability for food establishments. Graboski said a local restaurateur told her that having seating areas situated outside his restaurant in the winter months increased his business by 10 percent.

The outdoor dining legislation comes with a few standards, which Murray enumerated at the meeting. Firstly, the law only applies to restaurants with a primary enclosed business, and excludes take-out operations, drive-thrus and drive-ins, bars and nightclubs. The outdoor seating must be located in front of the restaurant’s indoor operation. There must be at least 10 feet of space between the restaurant’s exterior wall and the curb of the sidewalk. The restaurant will leave six feet clear to accommodate pedestrian traffic and safety. For example, if there is 12 feet of space between a restaurant and the sidewalk curb, the dining establishment may use six feet of sidewalk width for outdoor dining. Restaurants are allowed to install retractable awnings over the outdoor seating, but umbrellas are expressly forbidden.

To maintain the same occupancy limits for the restaurant, the town stipulates that indoor seating must be reduced to correspond with the additional outdoor seating, and the outdoor seating may not exceed 20 percent of the total indoor seating capacity. Licenses issued to restaurants by the town would only be valid for the season — May 1 through November 1, and allow dining from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

“This is a good business initiative,” said Nuzzi of the legislation, which was unanimously passed by the town board. “It will assist the business community and hopefully expanding dining opportunities will additionally flow out into the retail establishments.

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