North Bergen makes outdoor dining permanent

The township commissioners adopted an ordinance codifying the previously temporary regulations

North Bergen has moved to make outdoor dining, which kept restaurants in business during the pandemic, permanent in the township. The Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance, amending its previous outdoor dining ordinances, at its March 23 meeting.

The board has previously adopted ordinances, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling restaurants, bars, and other eating and drinking establishments to use outdoor dining. While the 2020 ordinances made outdoor dining temporarily permissible, the township looks to make it permanent.

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Temporary outdoor dining becomes permanent

North Bergen first adopted an ordinance to temporarily allow outdoor seating for businesses, including on the sidewalk and the townships’ right way of way, in June of 2020, as establishments were reopening following the end of the COVID-19 stay-at-home order. 

The ordinance used the framework from the 2017 ordinance regarding outdoor cafe and seasonal enclosures to allow for outdoor seating areas, and the township’s Zoning Ordinance provided for the procedures and requirements for outdoor restaurant seating, including site plan review and approvals by the Board of Commissioners and Board of Health. 

In order to help the aforementioned businesses, the township implemented a streamlined and free process to enable restaurants temporarily to use outdoor seating provided certain requirements are met. 

Under that ordinance adopted in June of 2020, the $250 application fee under the 2017 ordinance was waived. There was no fee for the application, license, or permit at the time. 

Starting that month, restaurants were permitted to have seating on the sidewalk adjacent to the restaurant for outdoor seating. However, social distancing was required between the tables, as well as other health and safety guidelines from the time period. Also starting that same month, restaurants were able to the same on private property, parking areas, and driveways, per regulations.

Amending the ordinance

While the ordinance was set to expire in October of 2020, the township extended with an ordinance amending the original one in September. Under the September ordinance, there were some adjustments introduced as the state began allowing limited indoor dining.  

The September ordinance extended the date in which outdoor dining is allowed, this time until November of 2020. The ordinance also waived the fees again, as well as instituted certain protocols for noise control and music played. As outdoor dining became more popular, some restaurants introduced live music or other noise that sometimes carried into the night, which the township sought to rectify by limiting the hours that music could be played.

The ordinance allowed for the township’s temporary closure of roads as part of its limited-time expanded outdoor dining program. Certain restaurants were allowed to expand outdoor dining into the street depending on the date, as the township introduced its Eat & Shop Local program to promote restaurants and local businesses.

Then in November of 2020, the township acted again, extending the allowable period for outdoor dining a third time, this time until the conclusion of the COVID-19 state of emergency. The November ordinance amended the original one to also incorporated rules from a separate September 2020 ordinance that allowed for heaters to support outdoor dining.

Outdoor dining is here to stay

Following the winter, in March of 2021 the township announced it would continue to allow outdoor dining under the rules and regulations outlined in the previous ordinances from 2020 and 2017. And now in 2022, the township looks to continue to allow outdoor dining, although the township is adding certain amendments that are enacted in the new ordinance.

There are actually few changes to the existing regulations under the new ordinance. The application fee of $250 will be reinstated. The annual application fee that allows a license holder to conduct outdoor dining is also $250. Penalties for violations are no higher than $250. 

Licensees are now required to carry general liability insurance coverage, with limits of at least $1,000,000 per occurrence and $2,000,000 aggregate. The township will be added as an additional insured for any outdoor restaurant seating on public property.

At the March 23 meeting, Mayor Nicholas Sacco applauded the move, noting how well the outdoor dining has been implemented by businesses in the township: “People are very happy with it, so we’re going to continue it. This may be the one good thing that came out of the pandemic.” 

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com. 

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