Edgartown officials are beginning to take the deep dive into conceptual planning for what the busy throughways of downtown might look like this summer.
At Tuesday’s board of selectmen meeting, retailers and restaurateurs in the Edgartown business district got a chance to share their suggestions and concerns regarding the possibility of street closures, and the necessity for “live parking” and other new concepts for the town.
The town will be making important decisions that will dictate how well the downtown business district will fare over the next 60 to 90 days when the population swells even more, town administrator James Hagerty said.
Specifically in July and August, Hagerty said, the need for contiguous outdoor dining zones and modifications to the normal traffic flow will most likely need to be made. Hagerty reminded those in attendance that these plans are all subject to change and termination, and nothing is final.
“If there is a stiff resistance or any grave concerns from businesses in town, we don’t have to do any of it,” Hagerty said. He suggested that a working group be formed by planners and business owners.
Hagerty said that in order to accommodate food establishments, there would need to be contiguous zones where people can park close by.
These conceptual contiguous zones include areas on Winter Street, South Summer Street, Main Street, and other areas where restaurants may be implementing outdoor seating.
Another approach town officials are looking at is implementing zones where vehicle traffic is prohibited, affording more space and safety for customers.
The no-vehicle-traffic zones could be closed off during peak restaurant hours, and the direction of traffic could be modified so vehicles have access to parking or food pickup, but do not have access to areas where people might be seated outside.
A third possible approach to accommodating outdoor dining and retail would be a hybrid plan where vehicle traffic is restricted and contiguous zones could be delineated using Jersey barriers, planters, or other movable objects.
“How often these areas are restricted, and how often we allow people to dine outside, is a defining detail,” Hagerty said. “Is this going to happen only on weekends? Or is it every day during regular dining hours? We are going to be figuring this all out.”
Joe Monteiro of 19 Raw, a popular oyster bar in downtown Edgartown, said he thinks this will be a great thing for restaurant owners. But Monteiro said, he is concerned about the safety of his customers, particularly when being so close to vehicle traffic. He asked what the town could do to ensure the safety of customers.
Selectman Art Smadbeck said that none of these plans will be put in place without consensus from stakeholders, and thorough vetting from the Edgartown Police and Fire departments.
Michael and Nicole Brisson of L’Etoile Restaurant in Edgartown said that takeout will need to be an integral part of local eateries if they are going to make it through the season.
Michael suggested setting designated areas on main streets for curbside pickup areas would improve traffic flow, and create a safe place for restaurants to do business this summer.
He said he is concerned that blocking off streets and allowing for outdoor dining could be problematic, as it will be difficult for folks walking by to maintain their adequate social distancing.
Nicole also said she and her husband have received a number of responses from customers who want better access to parking in Edgartown. Nicole said she is in support of curbside pickup zones for food orders. In terms of outdoor dining, Nicole also wondered how the town would help food establishments create a safe environment for all patrons.
Hagerty proposed that the Edgartown Board of Trade reach out to all restaurants and retailers, and request their input on issues like outdoor dining, parking, and any possible traffic restrictions.
Geoghan Coogan of Rockfish said he has lots of questions and concerns regarding the safety of his staff and customers when it comes to social distancing and health precautions. “We need to train our staff in proper use of PPE and disinfecting techniques,” Coogan said.
No matter what the town decides to do, Coogan said, it isn’t going to “save the season” for the many Edgartown business owners who rely on the business for just a couple months out of the year.
“We are doing everything we can to still be here next summer, and that is looking pretty grim so far,” Coogan said. He noted that the town needs to be in close partnership with businesses now, and in the months ahead.
Hagerty agreed with Coogan, and said that if the town is going to provide infrastructure and support, they need to know who is interested.
During the conceptual planning phase, Hagerty said, any ideas regarding contiguous zones, no-vehicle-traffic zones, or any combination of the two are essential, and asked business owners to reach out if they have suggestions or concerns.
“I don’t know if this is going to work. It could be an absolute nightmare. But at least we are planning for what is going to happen,” Hagerty said.
Updated to clarify a statement by Hagerty. -ed.