Outdoor dining set up at WIndward Tavern in Brick, June 15, 2020. (Supplied Photo)
Outdoor dining set up at WIndward Tavern in Brick, June 15, 2020. (Supplied Photo)

The Brick Township council on Tuesday night approved an ordinance aimed at assisting restaurants to comply with executive orders limiting indoor dining as the fall brings in cooler weather that could upend some establishments’ outdoor setups.

The current executive order effectuated by Gov. Phil Murphy requires restaurants to open no more than 25 percent of their indoor capacity to patrons with the intent of stopping the spread of coronavirus. But in the absence of guidance from the state as to when capacity will be increased again, restaurant owners are worried they will be driven out of business once cold temperatures put a stop to temporary outdoor dining. The ordinance passed Tuesday addresses that problem, officials said.

“Our intent is to make this as easy as possible for our dining establishments,” said Business Administrator Joanne Bergin. “We developed some simple modifications to help extend outside dining into the fall.”

Under the newly-passed ordinance, tents and existing shade structures can be used with three sides down, leaving one open for access and egress.

“That will help ensure air circulation while providing some barrier to the weather,” said Bergin.

The material used to enclose the tent on three sides must be of an approved material for such a purpose and compliant with NFPA 701. Tarps are not permitted as the material does not have a fire-resistant rating.

“Knowing it will get dark earlier, we are reminding restaurant owners to clearly mark exits and keep them free of any barriers,” Bergin added.

Small portable propane heaters can be used if the fuel tanks are located outside of the enclosure, so long as they meet manufacturer-required clearances from combustible materials. This includes 20-pound propane tanks. Larger heating systems where the combustion area is provided from outside the enclosure are also acceptable.

The process for permitting will remain as it was when restaurants first established outside dining, Bergin said. Zoning permits are required, and restaurant owners will need to provide a drawing or some illustration of how they intend to provide heat and or additional lighting, along with details of modifying existing tents. If an owner is proposing any changes to the existing footprint for outside dining, the Brick Police Traffic Safety Bureau and the Fire Safety Bureau will conduct a new site visit.

“Mayor Ducey and the township council directed the Land Use staff to develop a simple process to allow restaurants with existing zoning approval for outside dining to continue to use that same area as the cooler weather approaches,” Bergin said. “Our intent is to make this as easy as possible for our dining establishments.”

The current Brick-specific regulations are now in place, but if the state guidelines change, township officials “will have no choice but to adapt accordingly,” said Bergin.