Bueno Loco in Falmouth hopes to offer permanent, outdoor dining approved, but it will shut down its current set-up by Oct. 22. Rachel Vitello / The Forecaster

Only one Falmouth restaurant, JP’s Bistro, has applied and been approved for permanent outdoor dining, and all others in town will have to shut down their outside spaces by Oct. 22, according to Planning Board member and Land Use Planner Dawn Emerson.

JP’s Bistro could not be reached for comment on whether it plans to continue outdoor service year-round.

Restaurants can apply to the Planning Board for permanent outdoor dining spaces at any time, but JP’s was the only business to be approved for it before the deadline that was set as part of an emergency pandemic ordinance in August.

Bueno Loco, which has been operating an outdoor space in its parking lot, plans to apply for permanent approval, co-owner Gregin Doxsee said. Other restaurants in Falmouth did not return phone calls inquiring about their plans.

Doxsee, however, is leery of the process, which includes a minor site plan review application, a request for a hearing and an abutters list.

“The process has been cumbersome and clunky,” Doxsee said. “It’s picnic tables in a parking lot. It’s not like in Portland where sidewalks or streets are being taken up. We should be supporting local businesses by making things like this easier for them.”

To approve outdoor dining spaces, the Planning Board must consider a long list of criteria, Emerson said.

“There’s aesthetic. They’re looking at the visual aspect: landscaping, lighting, walking patterns, pedestrian and vehicular traffic patterns, where seating is going versus where the parking is going,” Emerson said. “There’s a whole variety of things they’re looking at when it comes to this.”

Doxsee said receiving permanent, year-round approval will avoid the need to apply for seasonal approval every year.

“We want to be good business partners with Falmouth, no one here is being intentionally difficult, but this process could be much more streamlined,” Doxsee said. “They could understand the pressure that small businesses are under right now.”

The length of the application process for permanent outdoor dining varies,  Emerson said. JP’s Bistro had its application approved within one planning board meeting.

“The time it takes for an applicant to put the application together is out of the control of the town,” Emerson said. “With these types of applications, you can never guarantee when the board will make a decision. But if it’s a pretty simple application, not controversial and they meet all the requirements, then it can probably be approved in one meeting. That’s always the goal, for everything to be in keeping with the ordinance.”

Doxsee said despite the frustration with the application process, she is grateful for the public’s support with this issue.

“There was a lot of outcry from the public when the ordinance was going to end back in August,” Doxsee said. “Small businesses are so appreciative of the public who weighed in on this topic. The community has really been wonderful.”

The Falmouth Town Council approved an emergency ordinance in August, two weeks after it voted to end an earlier pandemic provision that put a stop to temporary outdoor dining Aug. 20. After The Northern Forecaster ran a story about the initial council vote, councilors said they had received hundreds of emails about the issue.  Chairperson Amy Kuhn said she received about 160, more than she has ever received before on a single issue, in favor of extending the emergency provision.

“Outdoor dining just adds to that community feel. It’s really a pleasant experience on both sides of the aisle,”  Doxsee said.

 

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