Temporary zoning gives township businesses flexibility with outdoor dining, retail

Council ordinance will allow permits for those who want to expand

Washington Township is providing an avenue for restaurants and businesses that want to reopen this month to obtain special temporary zoning permits.

Township council passed an ordinance on first reading at its meeting last Monday to permit the issuance of zoning permits for a temporary time period of 120 days for outdoor restaurant seating and retail outdoor display sales at existing businesses.

According to the ordinance, businesses that wish to receive a permit can submit a written request and site sketch detailing the proposed use of their space. The information must include the locations, barriers to separate outdoor seating and parking areas and the number of tables and seating capacity. All plans must comply with New Jersey’s current health guidelines and social distancing regulations.

Since the zoning permits will be temporary, there is no need for a site plan review or formal application to the zoning board. The township’s zoning officer can issue the permits as long as all guidelines of the ordinance are followed. The interim zoning took effect beginning on June 15, the same day New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced some non-essential retail businesses would be permitted to reopen and restaurants could begin serving patrons outdoors.

A related resolution was passed later in the meeting permitting restaurants and retail establishments to use outdoor spaces such as sidewalks and parking lots to conduct service. Any expansion into an outdoor area would need to follow the guidelines set forth in the proposed ordinance.

Township officials spoke briefly about the reopening process. Mayor Joann Gattinelli said the township is ready to support local businesses and encouraged residents to do the same in the coming weeks.

“We’re all excited to see that the governor has opened up,” Gattinelli said. “Washington Township is back on track again. Our businesses are excited. The restaurants are excited.

“We need to make sure (the businesses) are aware that we are here to support them,” Gattinelli later added.

Washington Township put a focus on supporting businesses during the pandemic, hosting online town halls to give businesses support and resources while New Jersey’s stay-at-home order was in effect.

Both Gattinelli and Council President Joe Perry said residents need to continue to remain safe and follow all health guidelines as some businesses open for the first time in nearly three months.

“We still have to maintain our social distancing,” Perry added. “When we’re indoors in crowds, we have to wear masks.”

Township council also approved a pair of large gathering applications at last week’s meeting. The first is a new date for the Washington Township Rotary Club’s Wine Festival, originally scheduled for June 13 and postponed due to the pandemic. The event has been rescheduled for Saturday, Sept. 26, at Washington Lake Park from noon to 6 p.m., with a rain date of Sunday, Sept. 27.

The second event is a fundraiser for the Washington Township Minutemen Marching Band Booster Club. The club annually holds a carnival in the Washington Township High School parking lot. This year’s application, however, includes a carnival and drive-in movie fundraiser. The resolution notes the club will determine which event will be held based on the number of people permitted at outdoor gatherings leading up to the event. The carnival is tentatively scheduled for July 13 through July 18.