NORTHAMPTON — The Northampton City Council is on the verge of voting to maintain outdoor dining in the city for the upcoming spring and summer season.

During a special meeting on Feb. 21, the council was presented with the first reading of an order that would, when in effect, suspend several ordinances so outdoor dining in downtown Northampton can continue.

The order, which is recommended by Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, asks for these temporary measures to be implemented in 2024 and 2025.

For the last three years, outdoor dining has been a tool for the city to increase economic vitality in Northampton as the community continues to recover from COVID-19.

“The City Council finds that again encouraging, promoting and facilitating the vitality of businesses and restaurants by temporarily allowing certain activities to take place within public ways and on other public property in the designated districts that would not otherwise be allowed absent this order will greatly facilitate continued economic recovery,” reads the order’s language.

Alan Wolf, the mayor’s chief of staff, said outdoor dining has been a critical component for the city because it supports the vitality of downtown businesses and the psyche of patrons who want to enjoy dining in a safer capacity.

He also cited outdoor dining’s broader economic impact as a reason for its importance.

“It has also reinvigorated some of our dining in downtown Northampton and also … been an incredibly important factor in restoring local receipts revenue in the city of Northampton,” Wolf said.

The Healey-Driscoll administration has continued to renew COVID-19-era relaxation of restrictions through their Municipal Empowerment Act, which expands tools available to municipal leaders to generate revenue by allowing them to increase local option taxes on meals and lodging.

For example, the state continues to relax the restrictions of what a premise constitutes for a restaurant’s liquor license, which means local municipalities across the state can allow restaurants to serve alcohol in outdoor dining areas.

According to the city’s order, the suspension of certain ordinances would allow Northampton to also continue some of their signature programming in the warmer months like Summer on Strong.

The order specifies that it makes more sense to suspend ordinances temporarily, rather than permanently, because the Main Street redesign, which will be under construction in two years, will create permanent outdoor dining spaces.

When Picture Main Street is officially completed, the city will then figure out a way to codify permanent outdoor dining language.

“Outdoor dining has brought so much value to our business community as well as to those who visit from near and far,” said Downtown Northampton Association Executive Director Jillian Duclos, in a statement that was read by Wolf. “It allows for inclusivity for all those who enjoy the opportunity to gather with friends and enjoy a great meal but continues to be hindered by the ongoing effects of COVID.”

Ryan Keech, the assistant general manager of Fitzwilly’s and the Toasted Owl Tavern, also spoke in favor of the renewal of outdoor dining.

“Folks still call and ask if it’s provided because they want to eat outside for health and safety reasons related to COVID, and it’s great to be a community that provides that option, and it’s great for the town,” Keech said in a statement.

Many other restaurateurs in Northampton expressed a desire to maintain outdoor dining in Northampton based on statements read into the record by Wolf.

The order asks for these temporary measures to be implemented in 2024 and 2025.

The City Council will officially vote on outdoor dining order at one of its future meetings.

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