Outdoor dining: Accessibility, Girl Scouts, and planning and zoning

Inspired in part by Girl Scouts who surveyed the accessibility of village shops for a wheelchair-using troop member, the Planning and Zoning Commission is looking to quietly push businesses to address access issues — including outdoor restaurant seating that sometimes crowds sidewalks.

Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti raised the issue at the commission’s June 26 meeting, citing coverage in The Press about Troop 50669.

Outdoor seating is one of the more obvious — and easily addressed — access problems, but the commission doesn’t regulate it.

The idea isn’t to end the practice.

“We like it, it’s village-ie,” Mucchetti said.

But there are places where restaurant tables impede use of the sidewalk. One restaurant has gone so far as to fence off an area, forcing pedestrians into the adjacent parking lot, Mucchetti said. Sometimes there’s seating on both sides of the sidewalk, leaving only a narrow path through the middle.

“Something quaint and nice can get overbearing,” said commissioner Bob Cascella.

Mucchetti said town Social Services Director Tony Phillips, who works with the Commission on the Disabled, agrees it’s a problem.

Planning and Zoning Director Richard Baldelli offered to talk to the businesses that “impede people that need more accessibility.”

If business owners can’t “appropriately self-regulate” the commission can consider other options, he said.

But the effort will start with pointing out problems and asking for cooperation.

“We’ll let Richard and Tony have some conversations,” Mucchetti said.

“We’re all recognizing accessibility is a more important issue,” said Baldelli.