BRATTLEBORO — The town approved three actions aimed at making outdoor service easier for downtown businesses to achieve at a time when coronavirus concerns have limited what they can do.
"This just seems like a great thing," board member Ian Goodnow said. "We're making strong, definitive action during a pandemic to support local businesses and also might make downtown cooler than it already is."
Gov. Phil Scott recently allowed restaurants to offer outdoor dining. Retail stores can open with occupancy not to exceed 25 percent of capacity.
At a meeting Tuesday, the Select Board authorized the town manager to assign "parklets" to businesses. Up to $30,000 from program income, which originates from a revolving loan fund holding Vermont Community Development Block Grant money, was approved for buying
concrete jersey barriers and setting up as many as 12 areas for dining or drinking. Also, the town clerk is now authorized to issue outside alcohol consumption permits traditionally handled by the board.
Town Manager Peter Elwell said town staff are collaborating with the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance, restaurants and alcohol purveyors on the parklets. The program also is open to other types of businesses.
As of Tuesday, Elwell said about seven establishments are anticipated to participate and he did not expect to get as many as 12. On Wednesday, DBA Executive Director Stephanie Bonin said the list is still being finalized.
Each parklet will fill two parking spaces and cost about $2,500 each to create. Elwell said the expense could be looked at as an "economic development investment" to help businesses stay alive during the pandemic. He expects the parklets could be set up in about a week.
The parklets will not be on any handicapped parking spaces. They also will need to have decking to ensure accessibility and safety.
The DBA and artists will help with designs.
"It needs to be just about beauty and whimsy and not about advertising," Elwell said.
The parklets will likely be removed in October or November, ahead of the first snowstorm.
Each business will sign an agreement and be responsible for maintaining the parklet. Elwell said some restaurants are choosing not to participate due to the distance of the parking spots to their kitchen and number of wait staff needed for the change in operations.
Board member Daniel Quipp asked if smoking would be prohibited.
"While smoking on the sidewalk is allowed, it is offensive to some and more importantly, smoking in a restaurant is not allowed," Elwell said. "Since this is an extension of a restaurant in an outdoor area, I think we should say no smoking should be allowed."
Board members expressed a desire to revisit the program next year. Elwell said there is optimism about it working out well.
"From a town planning perspective, parklets are all the rage," board Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth McLoughlin said, noting that the Brattleboro Planning Commission supported the idea in a letter identifying planning initiatives for economic development.
Goodnow said that while campaigning for a seat on the board, he spoke about trying to make Brattleboro a place young people want to be.
"Walking downtown, drinking a beer on a parklet — I'm just so excited," he said.
"Older people might like it, too," McLoughlin said with a laugh.
Elwell suggested that if the barriers are no longer needed, they can be used on construction sites. They will be owned by the town.
Wendy Levy of Brattleboro said she liked the idea of promoting more outdoor spaces but worried about noise complaints. Elwell said the town can modify liquor licenses and owns the parklets so modifications can be made if needed.
Due to the pandemic, the Vermont Department of Liquor Control is issuing provisional outside consumption permits to restaurants that want to serve alcohol outdoors, Town Clerk Hilary Francis told the Reformer. Those permits will expire June 12 and will then need to be approved by the town.
Usually the permits are approved by the Select Board. But "because there is such a tight turnaround to get these approved, they granted me the authority to approve these administratively," Francis said.
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at email@example.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.