NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> The Newtown Mercantile Group is working with the support of the Newtown Borough Council on plans to hold a series of outdoor dining and business events in the borough designed to welcome customers back to town.
The event - the Newtown Welcome Back Celebration - proposes to close a section of State Street on two consecutive weekends in June from 4 to 8 p.m. both days to bring shoppers and diners back to town.
“This will provide some critical local support for our businesses in the borough,” the Mercantile group’s President Carol Richardson told council. “We hope the street closure will ease the minds of the general public and foster social distancing while increasing foot traffic in our small business community.”
Richardson said the closure would be from Centre to Penn on Saturday and from Centre to Washington on Sunday with detour signs posted.
“With the street being closed it gives us space for that social distancing,” said Richardson, with one way pedestrian traffic on one side of the street and one way in the opposite direction.
The closure would also give retail businesses the opportunity to include sidewalk sales as well as welcoming shoppers into their stores. “This would create a better flow of traffic into the businesses so they are not overloaded with too many people inside,” she said.
In addition, restaurants could use some of the street space for outdoor dining.
For restaurants behind State Street, she said the idea would be to close a section of the municipal lot from Isaac’s to the Swirl “to give those restaurants an opportunity for outside dining.
“We’re asking the borough to help us begin the journey to what is a new normal,” said Richardson, who asked the borough to waive any fees or charges, including for policing, that may be necessary to support the event.
After lengthy discussion, Council asked the group to meet with the police chief to discuss the detour, to fill out and submit a special events application and to apply to PennDOT for permission to close the street.
“It’s important that we try to support this. The businesses really need help from us,” said Councilor Susan Turner.
Due to a lack of police manpower, Council did ask that the group pare the event back to one block - from Washington to Centre one day and from Centre to Penn the second day. Initially Richardson had proposed closing State from Washington to Penn.
South State Street business owner David Witchell voiced his support of the event. “We understand the restrictions on the Police Department and we also think it’s a good idea to spread the wealth around. If it could be one Sunday our block and one Sunday someone else’s block, that way everyone gets to enjoy it and it would be good for everybody.”
The two weekends currently under consideration are June 20 and 21 and June 27 and 28. Details were still being finalized at deadline by the mercantile group.
In other business, the Newtown Borough Council voted to open its parking lot on North State Street on nights and weekends for outdoor dining.
Tables and chairs will be set up for anyone who orders take out food and is looking for a place to sit down and eat. Alcohol consumption, however, will not be allowed.
Council also voted to relax ordinance regulations for the next 90 days to accommodate borough restaurants and retail businesses as they reopen under the yellow phase of the Governor’s Covid-19 recovery plan.
Under yellow, restaurants may offer outside dining and businesses are allowed limited foot traffic.
The easing of restrictions is designed to give the borough’s business community a helping hand as they attempt to recover from a prolonged closure due to the coronavirus.
Restaurants who are considering outdoor dining and businesses considering outdoor sales areas are being asked to fill out an application now available on the borough’s website.
Applicants are asked to provide:
- A drawing to scale showing the outdoor portion of the property proposed to be used for outdoor commercial activity. Included should be a drawing of the proposed use of sidewalk space, which shall allow for pedestrians and handicapped individuals to traverse the sidewalk. Location of any tables, chairs or other fixtures must be included.
- A parking plan with provides sufficient parking to meet the needs of the proposed commercial activity. The parking plan must include: safe separation between customers and vehicles with the use of physical barriers and shall not occupy any handicapped parking area.
- A proposed pedestrian circulation plan, including at least one ADA compliant route.
If applicant is not the property owner, separate signed written approval from the property owner.
Under a resolution approved by council via a straw vote and ratified on June 9, the borough also is temporarily suspending ordinance requirements for parking, use of the sidewalk and right-of-way for dining, and restrictions that eating areas be enclosed by a fence.