By Stephen Quigley
At a joint meeting of the North End Waterfront Resident Association (NEWRA) and the North End Waterfront Neighborhood Council (NEWNC) that was held at the Nazzaro Community Center at 30 N. Bennett St. last Thursday evening, more than 80 residents had the opportunity to let city and elected officials, as well as a couple of restaurant owners, know that they are not happy with the outdoor dining regulations as they currently exist.
Segun Idowu, the Chief of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion for the city, told the audience that he “came to listen.” He also pointed out that new outdoor dining regulations that city officials have been working on have not been launched.
However, many residents were skeptical of that statement, since many believe that the outdoor dining regulations for the North End and the rest of the city already have been decided.
More than a dozen residents recited a litany of problems created by outdoor dining over the last three years that has resulted in crowded sidewalks, a serious rat problem, trash issues, loss of parking spaces, late night noise from restaurant patrons, the loss of scarce public space, and being forced to walk on the streets where that almost have been hit by cars.
“It takes a half an hour to get down Hanover Street,” Eileen DeBaptista said, noting that the character of the neighborhood has changed with the advent of outdoor dining because of the pandemic.
City officials pointed out that they are working on a city-wide restaurant policy, but residents suggested that since the North End is different from most city neighborhoods, a broad regulation would probably not work here.
“We see a lot of words and see no change,” Dave Kubiak said, adding, “City Hall is not listening to this community.”
Frank DePasquale, an owner of several restaurants, noted that he is a resident and business owner and he loves the community.
“We follow the rules and make this a neighborhood,” he said.
Both State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and District 1 City Councilor Gigi Coletta noted their support for this type of neighborhood meeting to highlight the issues.
John Romano, the city’s Director of Strategic Partnerships and Initiatives, noted that right now there are three different city criteria for outdoor dining.
The first is where the restaurant owns the land. The second is where dining is permitted only on the sidewalk. And the third model is where dining is only on the street. The new regulations that are being formulated will address each of the specific cases.
Joel Faller, the president of the NEWNC said, “This meeting should not be just check a box, but you should come back and listen to residents after you have a city-wide proposal.”
The city-wide policy presumably will have to be formulated and enacted within the next several weeks with the approach of the spring.
“There is a public process, don’t shortcut it,” longtime resident Victor Brogna added.