Enjoy having lunch out in the sun? In New Jersey, you’ll be able to do it for at least another couple of years.
gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill Wednesday extending pandemic-era permissions for restaurants, bars, distilleries, and breweries to use outdoor spaces through November 2024. The permissions were set to expire in November of this year under a previous bill.
New Jersey first loosened restrictions on outdoor dining via executive order amid 2020’s indoor capacity limits — which followed shutdowns that saw eateries restricted to takeout only for months.
The bill allows the use of tents, canopies, umbrellas, tables, chairs, and other fixtures on private property or adjacent spaces, like sidewalks, that have been designated by municipalities. Participating businesses still need to get approvals through municipal offices, but the extension of a restaurant or bar into an outdoor space while the law is in effect doesn’t require a zoning variance — which can take months for a business to secure, if it’s approved at all
The bill also extends the time period for special permits allowing liquor sales in the outdoor spaces.
Murphy signed the bill at Vesta Wood-Fired in East Rutherford on Wednesday. Both houses of the state Legislature approved it in late June. Two assembly members didn’t vote, but no legislators voted against the measure.
“I can’t think of a better idea than eating outside, even when there’s no tent and the sun is blazing on your head,” US Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. said at the signing.
State Sen. Paul Sarlo, the bill’s primary sponsor, described the measure as one that marked a transition from “necessity to flexibility.” Businesses needed more options in the pandemic, but now that same flexibility is helping them recover and thrive, he said.
“How great is it to be here, (for instance) celebrating a baby shower while your neighbor’s having a cup of coffee on his front stoop. That’s what New Jersey is all about.”
Sarlo also said he’d support a permanent extension of the state framework for outdoor dining. Murphy told him to “color me open-minded to making this part of the furniture forever.”
Still, support for outdoor dining hasn’t been universal. Ringwood Mayor Susan Knudsen told NorthJersey.com this March that outdoor dining areas have become roadblocks, and sacrificed parking spaces that cost retailers business. Yet a councilman for the same town, Paul Vagianos, said at the time outdoor dining attracts people to town — benefiting restaurants and retailers alike.
A lawsuit recently filed by 35 people in New York City seeks to end the outdoor dining program there, blaming it for noise, traffic, garbage, and blocking city streets, ABC7 reports.
New Jersey formally ended its public health emergency for the coronavirus pandemic in March, though a separate state of emergency declaration smoothing the process for distributing federal funds remains in effect. A state of emergency in New York remains in effect.