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Howell officials discuss possibility of outdoor seating at restaurants

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HOWELL – Members of the Township Council have started to discuss details regarding the reopening of Howell’s restaurants as the impact of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic has started to ease up.

On May 19, council members authorized the extension of the deadline for the renewal of a retail food-handling establishment license until July 31 in compliance with an Executive Order that was issued by Gov. Phil Murphy.

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Councilman John Bonevich applauded the passage of the resolution, saying, “We are in phase one of our recovery here and soon we are going we are going to be coming into phase two. (The Executive Order) is about restaurants being able to open (in a limited capacity), but phase two mentions outdoor dining. All of our restaurants and bars are indoors.”

He said the council is trying to ensure Howell restaurant owners “do not have to go in front of planning/zoning and spend technical review money. We are giving them a little leniency because if they can only have 50% capacity inside, maybe they can gain 25% outside; and not cost themselves a lot of money.”

Mayor Theresa Berger noted that for a restaurant to provide outdoor seating, some parking spaces at its location could be lost.

Township Manager Brian Geoghegan said the mayor’s statement is accurate and added, “It is very difficult to come up with one set of rules that is going to apply to every business we have in town. That is why there is a lot of latitude built into this (plan) with regard to our director of land use to make determinations.

“Yes, most likely some parking spaces will be taken up (by outdoor seating). However, it will be on the business owner. If a business owner is using all his parking spaces for seating, people are not going to come if they do not have a place to park. So there does have to be a balancing act,” Geoghegan said.

He said Howell’s elected officials are trying to support local businesses.

“We are hoping a lot of businesses, whether restaurants or retail, by expanding their footprint (space), might see the benefit to it and look to make (additional space) a permanent fixture and pursue that process, or quite possibly even add to their employment; putting people back to work,” Geoghegan said.

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