On the path to Re-opening
By Gregory T. Federspiel
As anxious as we all are to return to more normal life without the restrictions and vigilance required by the coronavirus pandemic, we are walking through a phased, multi-staged process both at the state and local level. The pace can feel slow, but it is much better to proceed slowly and methodically rather than rush only to have to backtrack re-imposing restrictions because of a surge in cases. Manchester has done well to avoid a large number of infections – we want to keep it this way.
The state will be moving from it’s first phase of re-opening to its second phase possibly on June 8, 3 weeks after starting Phase 1. This state-wide second phase will allow restaurants to open but at reduced capacity and provides for temporary, simplified permitting for outdoor dining to partially make up for the lost interior seating until November of this year. Retail shops also will be allowed to open soon but also at reduced capacity.
Discussions began at last Monday’s Selectmen’s meeting regarding options for using public space for outdoor dining – sidewalks and/or parking spaces. While most people spoke in favor of pursuing this, there are many details to be worked out in relatively short order to take advantage of the summer weather. A working group comprised of two selectmen, the Police Chief, a member of our Board of Health and representatives of shop keepers and restaurant owners aims to craft a way forward for our seven local restaurants. The group’s initial recommendations will be further discussed at a special Selectmen’s meeting on Monday, June 8 starting at 6:30.
Balancing the various competing needs here will require careful thought. Can we take away some on-street parking to be used either for diverted sidewalk users or for placing outdoor dining so long as strong barriers from vehicle traffic is provided? What additional ADA measures will be needed if we redirect pedestrians off the sidewalks? If parking is lost in order to help restaurants are there options to provide parking elsewhere or time the loss of parking so as to minimize the impacts on retail shops? Are there other areas that could be utilized for the outdoor dining? Alternative parking?
Our local shops and restaurants are enduring extreme hardships during this pandemic. Creative ideas on how we can all help restore the economic health of our local businesses are needed. Please let us know if you have an idea to share and don’t forget to shop and dine local!
The Selectmen also reviewed our local phased opening of parks and beaches. While different from the state’s phases, we have 4 stages to our re-opening plan as well. Phase 2 started May 25 adding beaches to our parks being open Monday through Friday for resident walkers and runners. While wanting to open parks and beaches to greater uses, the Selectmen believe that a conservative re-opening plan is best for the safety of residents. They approved opening all beaches and parks 7 days a week effective this coming weekend. The expectation is that the Selectmen will soon approve the Town’s full Phase 3 plan which will broaden the allowed uses in parks and on the beaches as well as opening the facilities at these locations while still restricting the facilities to residents. It is worth remembering that under normal years, Singing Beach is not fully operational until the third week in June. This is anything but a normal year.
Preparations continue for the Annual Town Meeting to take place June 22 on the high school football field. Materials for the meeting will be delivered to all households by June 14th including all the handouts that are typically passed out at the time of the meeting. In this way, voters will have more time to be fully informed prior to the meeting. In the meantime, the materials can be viewed on- line on the Town’s web site.