Above: Gov. McKee at The Patio Monday. Behind him, from left, Angel & Jason Winpenny, Rick Simone, Steve Lombardi, Andy Nota, Justine Caldwell, Mark Schwager, Tomás Ávila, Dale Venturini and Stefan Pryor.
The governor was there to encourage stimulus relief for small businesses
Gov. Dan McKee came to East Greenwich Monday to push for the state to use some federal ARP stimulus funds to shore up small businesses. But he landed in the middle of a local struggle between the town’s need to provide for adequate parking downtown and a business’s desire to expand.
McKee’s press conference took place under The Patio restaurant’s tent – a tent that sits on their parking lot thanks to loosened parking restrictions put in place because of the COVID pandemic. The Patio’s owners, Jason and Angel Winpenny, opened their 21-seat restaurant in early 2020, just before COVID arrived and the state prohibited in-person dining. Like many others, The Patio shifted to takeout. When outdoor dining was allowed, they applied to the town to use their parking lot for seating. The rest, as they say, is history. Patrons flocked to The Patio and – because of the loosened restrictions – they were allowed to have double the seating capacity: 42 seats.
The Winpennys want to maintain their growth. They are able to through March 2022 because of extended COVID relief via the state but without zoning relief from the town they will have to retract to their original 21 seats. Their application to the town for setback and parking relief (they would hire a valet service) to be able to continue using their parking lot was heard by the Zoning Board in June (read more HERE). The staff report on the application was not favorable, noting a number of difficulties, summing up with, “Staff finds it quite clear any relief granted will negatively impact and exacerbate the current parking problem. Planning staff cannot support the application as submitted.” (Find the full staff report here: ZBR Staff Report 07.27.21.)
The Winpennys withdrew the application after the initial June hearing. The Patio also has run afoul of the town in recent months, first for having live music in excess of their 2-night allowance and then for having more than 90 seats, instead of their allowed 42. The Town Council fined them $2,500 for that violation (read more HERE).
So, here was Gov. McKee on Monday, lauding the Winpennys’ entrepreneurial acumen. How did McKee end up at this corner of East Greenwich?
According to McKee spokesman Matt Sheaff, The Patio fit the bill.
He said it was recommended by Rick Simone of the Ocean State Coalition (a business advocacy organization) along with a few other venues.
“We wanted a nice big outdoor space and … I didn’t want to go inside. Then I’d have to figure out masks. I came to look at [The Patio] and thought, this is a beautiful space,” Sheaff said Monday.
“They approached us on Friday,” said Angel Winpenny.
Town Manager Andy Nota was also on hand for McKee’s visit.
“For me, it’s a normal course of business,” he said, referring to The Patio’s application to the Zoning Board. “Businesses request relief all the time – for parking, for setbacks. They have been given relief through COVID, through April 1,” he said. “I think we might see [a new application] this winter – a normal zoning relief request.”
The Winpennys said that was their intent and that they were working on plans now.
“We’re going to resubmit our plans to the town,” said Angel.
This claim that the Patio creates a “struggle for parking on Main Street” is BS. The parking lot in question was only enough for 4 cars to park comfortably. Their use of the parking lot as dining space is better for the majority of EG. And those 4 lost parking spaces aren’t hurting anyone. Let the Patio re-zone that outdoor area into an extended temporary outdoor dining space. Patio has support of the people of East Greenwich. Is there a way for us to better support one of the best restaurants in EG? What can we do?