May 28, 2020MEREDITH — A local bar and eatery will be able to offer outdoor dining after receiving selectmen approval to use part of Community Park.
Frog Rock Tavern on Main Street was given the go-ahead by the board of selectmen to put outdoor seating in a small section of the park, which will allow it to open and offer outside dining in accordance with the revised Stay at Home order.
The selectmen gave their approval after discussion at the May 18 board meeting. Surveyor Carl Johnson, representing the owners of Frog Rock, outlined the plan for offering some tables in a narrow section of the park that he said would not interfere with park activities.
Johnson said with the pandemic and the restrictions, restaurants that haven't been able to offer takeout have suffered. Under the second phase of the Stay at Home order restaurants are now allowed to offer outdoor seating with regulations like tables being six feet apart and servers having to wear masks. Johnson said Frog Rock's location right downtown has given it a disadvantage and the only way it would be able to offer outdoor seating is if it uses a portion of Community Park, which is town property. Johnson and the owners worked out a plan that would offer limited outdoor seating in sliver of Community Park. Six tables would be put out and the whole area wold be cordoned out with signage, all conforming to the new Stay at Home order.
Johnson said at the last board meeting some questions came up about insurance and the usage of the park. Johnson said general manager Dermot Moynihan discussed this option with the state Liquor Commission, who authorized this use as long as there was written permission from the town.
Town Manager Phil Warren said a request like this normally wouldn't come to the board's level, but the town doesn't normally see requests like this and there were a few potential snags
Warren said there was some concern about the town ordinance that states there will be no commercial use of or alcohol consumption in town parks. He said he talked with the town attorney about this, who said the ordinance states that the town "may," not "shall," request someone to leave town property and are on "solid ground" to waive the no alcohol rule with this agreement. He said the town's insurance company Primex said there won't be an issue as long as they retain an insurance certificate from the business and insurance for liquor liability.
There was some concern by board members about seating being placed on the sidewalk. Johnson said this would be one table with seating for two people and there would be enough room for pedestrians to get around. After some discussion Johnson said he spoke with Moynihan said they would be willing to take that table off the plan to alleviate any concerns, which the Warren said was appreciated.
Selectman Mike Pelczar supported the proposal, saying "desperate times call for desperate measures" and an exception is in order.
"We need to help our small businesses and keep them thriving especially on Main Street, so I'm for this to help out wherever we can to keep people afloat," Pelczar said.
Selectman Jonathan James said he had no problem with it, saying he felt bad for businesses like the Lakefront Tavern that doesn't have any space to offer outdoor seating.
Board chair Ray Moritz said the board usually makes it a policy not to vote during a workshop and said it would be assumed Johnson would log into the next formal meeting when the board would vote. Warren said under the circumstances the board could consider waiving that informal policy given the timeliness of the situation. The next board meeting would be three weeks out, meanwhile the regulation allowing restaurants to open outdoor seating went into effect that day. Moynihan said waiting that time would be a problem for the business.
Moritz asked if the board should consider giving at least seven days' notice to the public for feedback. Warren said this matter didn't require a public hearing and at that point the permits would be handled administratively. He said if there were any issues that involved his office, such as health regulations, or any emergencies the town could still pull the permit.
"I don't think that's going to be the case, but you could employ that as your fallback," Warren said.
After further discussion, Warren said there have been times the board agreed to this by consensus to authorize him to take some kind of action and they could agree to ask him to make sure the permit is issued and is condition on receiving the insurance certificate, inspection, and other criteria. Pelczar made that into a motion
Selectman Jeanie Forrester said she has been dealing with a similar permit process in Tilton, where she serves as town administrator, and agreed the town should let this go forward.
"We ought to let Frog Rock move forward and get opened up," Forrester said.
The board gave its unanimous approval.