The Zoning Board heard why the restaurant want to be exempt from town rules
After two and a half hours of sometimes emotional testimony, the Zoning Board Tuesday night continued the public hearing to July 27 on The Patio’s request to formally change from a cozy 21-seat indoor restaurant to a more commodious 42-seat all-outdoor restaurant, trading the current tent for a permanent pergola.
The Patio opened in February 2020, just a month before the COVID-19 pandemic descended on Rhode Island and restaurants in the state were ordered to shut down in-person dining. Like most restaurants, the Patio pivoted to take out; in May 2020, when restaurants were allowed to reopen with strict capacity limits and the town relaxed zoning restrictions – including the normally required number of parking spaces – The Patio erected a large tent in their parking lot. That allowed the restaurant more space for tables to reach the maximum COVID-allowed capacity.
As regulations loosened over the months, allowing for additional capacity, The Patio was able to add more seating under the tent until it was serving many more diners than would have been possible pre-pandemic, as well as offering live music, comedians, and trivia nights.
Not surprisingly, the owners – Jason and Angel Winpenny – want to keep their expanded capacity. But now, as East Greenwich heads back to a state of pre-pandemic normalcy, The Patio won’t be able to keep the expanded dining space without approval from the Zoning Board. That’s because the restaurant is required to provide one parking space for every three seats and the tent is sitting on the restaurant’s only parking spaces.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the Winpennys were represented by attorney Nicole Martucci of Duffy & Sweeney, LTD, who emphasized the need for an outdoor dining area due to lingering COVID-19 fears. She argued that many customers would rather dine outside than inside.
“Even though the indoor dining restrictions are slowly being lifted,” said Martucci, “it’s becoming apparent that many people in the community would prefer to have the safety of outdoor dining and the peace of mind that comes with that.”
Some members of the Zoning Board questioned how hesitant customers would be to eat indoors, given the state’s high vaccination rates and loosened restrictions. There are no more limits on indoor dining in Rhode Island.
Board chairman Rick Land said he read through several letters of support written by members of the community, and that “while some of them suggest that they feel safer or like the environment [of The Patio], the vast majority of those just like the fact that The Patio is there.”
He added, “They like the outside dining. They like the band … Those are common human reactions to something that is nice and enjoyable, but it’s not a basis for us to grant relief to the zoning ordinances.”
Land mentioned the same kind of argument could be made for any other business “that has cramped facilities and wants to expand their footprint in a parking lot.”
The Zoning Board, he noted, upholds the laws established by the Town Council. Restaurant owners frequently apply to the Zoning Board for what’s called “parking relief” from those Town Council-established laws, especially on Main Street, where onsite parking lots are rare. For instance, across Main Street from The Patio, Filippou’s Twisted Pizza has an awning that extends over what was once a small parking lot for that space. They have no on-site parking now and offer no valet service but got permission from the Zoning Board two years ago based on what they argued was the in-and-out nature of their business.
The Patio wants to build a permanent pergola over their parking area and they have decided to use a valet service and have gotten leasing contracts for a total of 25 parking spaces in two separate parking lots – one on Main Street and one on Marlborough. That would provide more than one space for every two diners. Under the current regulation, they need a 1:3 ratio – that’s 7 spaces for 21 seats or 14 spaces for 42 seats.
Parking has not been an issue for The Patio over the past year but that most likely will be changing soon. Since the start of the pandemic, customers of The Patio have been able to use the parking lot right across the street at 455 Main Street because Red Stripe closed in March 2020. However, a new restaurant, Union & Main, will be opening up there in coming months.
At the meeting Tuesday – which was virtual – after Martucci’s presentation, Land opened the meeting to public comment, asking those in favor of The Patio’s request to comment first. Several employees of The Patio spoke of their commitment to the restaurant and said they did not want to be laid off due to a conflict over parking spaces and said business was really good. Other commenters suggested that many customers could walk or rideshare to The Patio, so the additional parking spaces might not be needed.
Land stopped the meeting at 10:30 p.m., citing the lateness of the hour. Since public comment was not over, the meeting was continued to Tuesday, July 27, with an earlier start time of 6 p.m. to accommodate additional public comment.
One further wrinkle for The Patio is that they have been offering live music for months but have not applied for an amplified music license, according to town officials. They di have an entertainment license. Town officials say the owners erected a stockade fence and installed a new sign without permission. The sign has since been taken down. The Winpennys say they were unaware permits were needed.
And getting parking relief is only the first step toward a permanent larger restaurant. If the Zoning Board grants The Patio the parking and capacity relief, they would then need to submit a new application to the board for zoning relief for the pergola and to the Historic District Commission for its stamp of approval on the pergola.
Aiza Shaikh, a newly minted EGHS alum (Class of 2021), has been an EG resident since 2008. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, traveling, and eating coffee ice cream.
Outdoor dining has easily been one of the best things of this pandemic, and it would be a shame to lose.
Last summer any night you walked down Main Street felt like a Main Street stroll with people eating outside it was always lovely. It would feel like a real backwards step to have that taken away.
Parking lot laws are what ruin a small town feel. It’s why all that’s ever built now is strip malls and suburban hell. It’s no longer possible to build a small shop or restaurant with apartments upstairs without insane amount of parking space (not to mention mixed use is often illegal now anyway). People can walk. Main Street is less than half a mile long, keep the handicap spots, but most people can park in a municipal lot and walk a bit.
I say let them have their permit, and any other restaurant on Main Street that wants to keep outdoor dining should be permitted to as well.
Plenty of spaces in the old Almacs parking lot especially at night nobody from the Kent Theatre parks there anymore and the restaurant is just around the corner,
Sounds like the business has outgrown the location.
Love the Patio and their outdoor atmosphere.
Just curious: what about all the other restaurants in Main Street that they don’t have a parking lot? Most of them don’t have any. You have to park few blocks up or down and that’s not a problem. That corner in Main Street has been so difficult to fill. Since we moved here in 2006 we have seen at least 4-5 different restaurants/coffee shops opened up there and no one survived. The Patio , with their outdoor space, did it and in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. I hope we can all help Main Street stay cozy, busy, safe and beautiful! Good luck!
It’s very interesting that Filippou’s was granted a variance to do a similar set up. The Patio’s lawyer should have brought that up as I think it makes an intriguing argument why they should also be granted the variance.
The Patio is stating that they are operating with a capacity of 42, but their capacity is easily closer to 70 – simply count the seats, nothing is being hidden! Add to that the fact that they have never applied for performance permits, never asked to use a neighbor’s parking lot essentially as their own, and were actually only allowed 21 seats by executive order (not 42), and how can anyone be certain that they are being truthful about anything!
They had initially requested a parking variance back as far as April 2020 (2 months after opening), looking to increase eating capacity then. This request was withdrawn, but its clear that the desire for more seating has been there for a long time. The current argument that “people desire a place to eat safely outdoors” is merely their latest convenient argument to expand seating capacity for financial purposes.
Give someone an inch, they take a yard.
I drove by there a few evenings ago and there were cars parked all over Union, left wheels to the curb, right wheels to curb, partially on the sidewalks.
A fire truck could never have gotten down Union if necessary.
They should revert to the original plan…or let every other restaurant expand by 75% too and remove parking requirements for every other restaurant.
East Greenwich Main Street has become a strip mall! Having grown-up in “small town” EG I can say that Main Street is basically an eyesore.
Maybe they need to move to another location. The Town needs to stop catering to business that come and go.