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Hopewell Township notifies restaurants of quicker permit process for outdoor dining

Hopewell Township officials have announced a streamlined application process for restaurants obtaining a temporary activities permit to provide outdoor dining.

Through the streamlined process the township committee would review and approve applications for the temporary activities permit at a more frequent rate. Normally the process would take a month for  such a permit to be approved, according to officials.

“We already had a temporary permit plan for weddings and etc. We converted that to be able to allow people to do outdoor dining. Using that template, we were able to act pretty quickly,” Committeewoman Julie Blake said. “We decided that was the best way to start, because then we could see what works and doesn’t work. If we want to take more formal action with an ordinance later, we will have a lot of good data about what works and what does not.”

She added that the restaurants approved through the expedited process would have to follow the current township guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials said township staff will also work with applicants to help create outdoor dining options that can be operated safely and comply with key code provisions.

“What is going to follow is the lead of the governor and what the next stage looks like. What our town allows for will be modified once we get clear orders from the state,” Blake said. “Each application case will be looked at independently when we find out and then it will go through another review when we have those orders.”

Currently, New Jersey restaurants remain limited to takeout and delivery. Gov. Phil Murphy has not announced a specific date for when outdoor dining could take place but has indicated that it would begin in Phase 2 of the state reopening. The state remains in Phase 1 of reopening.

According to Murphy, data received from hospitals and testing allows the state to determine dates during the phases of reopening.

Hopewell Township Committee members had been discussing the creation of a streamlined process for a month prior to the announcement on May 29.

“Committeeman Kevin Kuchinski had seen an opportunity with this more streamlined process and had seen other towns going in this direction,” Blake said. “Obviously we did not need to act right at that moment because we did not have an executive order by Gov. Phil Murphy.”

Officials thought it was critically important for Hopewell Township to be ready for next stage of reopening, according to Mayor Kristin McLaughlin.

“As soon as we realized that outdoor dining was at some point in the near future and probably going to be the next step we began discussions with our attorneys and zoning office on how Hopewell Township could make that a possibility for our restaurants,” she said. “The temporary activities permit looked to be the most flexible tool we had in our arsenal to make that happen.”

McLaughlin added that restaurants are critical to the township community.

Blake also referenced the importance of aiding business in Hopewell Township through a temporary activities permit.

“This is one of the most important things we can do to support our businesses. Right now we pushed this out for restaurants, because people want to go out and eat,” she said. “Businesses will be impacted by an executive order and phase two for the state plan to reopen. Hopefully soon we will hit all the businesses, not just restaurants, with a streamlined process.”

For more information on the temporary activities permit, visit www.hopewelltwp.org.

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