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Ordinance on outdoor dining to be reworked

Date: 9/7/2011

Sept. 7, 2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Editor

AGAWAM — One more revision, and restaurants in Agawam will most likely have a clear set of guidelines to follow in applying for an outdoor dining permit.

Following an Aug. 30 Zoning Ordinance Workshop attended by members of both the City Council and Planning Board, City Councilor George Bitzas withdrew his proposed outdoor dining amendment to allow City Solicitor Vincent Gioscia to draft a new version with more specific language outlining the permitting process.

Bitzas told Reminder Publications he chose to withdraw his amendment at this time for two reasons, first, because the outdoor dining season is over for this year, and second, to address the concerns about the proposal that were raised during the workshop.

“We want to make sure we have the proper definitions and the correct wording which meets state codes [regarding outdoor dining] and that we take into consideration what those state codes say about it,” City Councilor Jill S. Messick, who chairs the council’s Zoning Review Committee, said.

She said that it was not a question of the two boards being against the concept of outdoor dining – “everyone was excited about allowing it — “ but that that meeting attendees agreed the final ordinance should lay out “some very clear guidelines” for an applicant to follow.

City Councilor Robert A. Magovern, chair of the council’s Ordinance Committee, said the final stumbling block in the workshop discussions involved whether or not the Board of Appeals should be involved in the outdoor dining permitting process. He said the initial ordinance was drawn up without including them, but following discussions with Gioscia, that oversight was reexamined.

“The Board of Appeals is the only board that the legal right to enforce some of the [town] codes,” Magovern said, adding that his concern was for abutters and their right to enjoy their property. “Should the [outdoor dining] ordinance be passed, it needs to be drawn up so ... if there is a restaurant that violates [the ordinance] there is a way to enforce [it] to protect the neighbors.”

Messick said the revised draft that was sent to Gioscia for review was “similar to what was [originally] proposed, but there will be some more criteria for the Board of Appeals to look at and some more definitions” regarding sanitation, food handling and liquor license permitting.

“Outdoor dining is not outdoor seating,” she added.

Magovern pointed out that in redrafting the ordinance, the intent of councilors and Planning Board members was to “streamline what people have to do to get [permitted] for outdoor dining,” noting that the ordinance had already been “worked on” by the town Board of Health, Liquor Commission, Planning Board and “as many other town agencies as we can have involved so that all concerns are addressed.” He added that despite any revisions in this new proposed ordinance, restaurants that have already received outdoor dining permits would be grandfathered.

Travis P. Ward, chair of the Planning Board, said the overall concern of everyone at the meeting, and in particular, Bitzas, was that the final draft of the ordinance had “a pro-business aspect.”

“We believe that means how well the public boards and offices assist ... in guiding the applicant,” Ward said. “We want to make sure all the protections are there for the public and the Town of Agawam without creating an undue hardship in the permitting process.”

Bitzas said he was going to use the ensuing months to work with “all the boards and commissions and everyone involved to come up with a new ordinance that protects the integrity of the neighborhoods and the businesses.”

Ward said he believed the revised ordinance would have to come before the Planning Board again for a positive or negative recommendation — his board can’t make changes to an ordinance, just agree or disagree with the language as written — prior to coming before the city council again for a final vote.

Debbie Gardner can be reached by e-mail at

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