Moorestown restaurants may soon be able to expand outdoor dining

Council passes ordinance for eateries to expand their spaces.

Moorestown restaurants eager to expand outdoor seating capacity may soon have some relief in sight.

Township council approved an ordinance on first reading Wednesday that permits restaurants to extend their outdoor seating footprint during COVID-19. In order to obtain the necessary permit for expansion, there are a handful of restrictions that businesses must adhere to. Business owners must submit an application with a plan to the township in which they identify how their tables will be set up, and they must follow the state’s guidelines with tables spaced 6 feet apart. 

Owners can expand into their parking lots, but in their plan, they must demonstrate how they will separate patrons from vehicular traffic. Restaurants can also expand in front of a neighboring property, but in order to do so, the owner must obtain permission from both the property owner and all tenants. 

The ordinance outlines a set of standards that restaurant owners must abide by to maintain their permit. These include servers wearing masks and ensuring that restaurants provide their own trash receptacles and do not use the ones along Main Street. 

All permits will be reviewed by the township’s zoning officer, construction official, fire official and police department. Kevin Aberant, the township’s attorney, said officials will review applications “as expeditiously as possible” so that restaurants can get up and running.

Permits will be valid until Dec. 1, or until an executive order is issued that permits unrestricted indoor dining. 

Council members Lisa Petriello and Michael Locatell questioned how far businesses will be permitted to expand on the sidewalk. Aberant explained there are two factors that will limit restaurants. The first is that both the neighboring property owner and tenants must agree to have restaurant tables in front of their property. The second is that the 6-feet spacing requirements will dictate the number of tables in any given area. 

Locatell pushed to include language that caps restaurants at their capacity limit. Council agreed to amend the ordinance to say that restaurants cannot exceed their previously established, combined indoor and outdoor seating capacity. 

Councilwoman Victoria Napolitano also encouraged council to consider adding language that enables the township to revoke permits “at their discretion,” which her fellow members agreed to. She said the township may encounter unforeseen circumstances, such as a noise complaint, and should keep the ordinance open-ended enough to combat such issues. 

Mayor Nicole Gillespie stressed that the ordinance will provide necessary aid to restaurants along Main Street, in the Lenola section of town and at the Moorestown Mall.

“There’s a lot of businesses in Moorestown that are suffering, so I’m glad we got this pushed through,” she said.

The ordinance will be up for second reading on Monday, July 13 at 5 p.m. There will be a public hearing on it at that time.