WATERVILLE — The City Council voted 5-1 Tuesday to extend outdoor dining for Lion’s Den Tavern downtown to April 1, 2021, despite some councilors’ efforts to table the decision until the public and more area restaurants can give input.

Mayor Nick Isgro led the charge to convince councilors to approve the request by Lion’s Den owners Erica Pelotte and Jennifer Bergeron to continue to use space in Haines Park on The Concourse for outdoor dining beyond an existing Nov. 1 extension.

But Council Chairman Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7, asked that the council table making a decision, at least until the next council meeting in two weeks to allow the public and other restaurants input. He said he had heard concerns from people about it, and he was not sure everyone was aware the request was on the table.

The city had earlier approved allowing outdoor dining on city-owned property as a way to support restaurants after the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Bergeron’s appearance before the council Tuesday was the third time since July. Isgro said business people approach the council with ideas to invest in the city, and each time are told the council needs more input, which is tantamount to kicking the can down the road.

“We have to have some kind of deadline here,” he said.

He said that in the spring, the city offered space in Haines Park for other businesses, but they said they did not want it. Councilor Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, agreed, saying it was critical that the council allow outdoor dining during the pandemic, as hospitality businesses took major blows.

“Outside dining has to be something that we support as a group to keep those businesses in a sustainable position,” he said.

Jennifer Bergeron, left, and Erica Pelotte, owners of the Lion’s Den Tavern, listen to a Waterville City Council meeting Tuesday from the overflow room at Mid-Maine Technical Center. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Councilor Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, said Bergeron and Pelotte should be applauded for their efforts, but the process has taken place piecemeal and there is no justification for usurping city-owned land without paying rent or utilities — and for favoring only one downtown business. He said he was opposed to giving special treatment, and the city has to be fair to all businesses. He noted that The Concourse will be reconfigured as part of downtown revitalization and what was before the council Tuesday would not represent a long-term change.

“I think it’s simply premature for us to move ahead with this, at this point,” he said.

Bergeron said she had support from the city to use the park, and she went to the state to get temporary permission to carry alcohol across the road to the park. She said the park itself was a little piece of land used as an ashtray for people who smoked and she did a lot of work to beautify it.

“Nobody wanted it, nobody mowed it, nobody did anything with it,” she said.

She said she tried contacting You Know Whose Pub owner Kevin Joseph about whether he wanted to use part of the space, and he always said he was too busy to talk with her about it.

“We want downtown to be a thriving place, we want more business downtown, we want people everywhere,” she said, adding that hers was the only restaurant that came to the city with ideas and now the council was putting her off.

Diners sit Tuesday in the extended outdoor seating for the Lion’s Den Tavern at The Concourse in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Isgro said no one had approached the city to use the space.

“If somebody else wants to use this park, then they need to step forward or step aside,” he said.

Councilor Mike Morris, D-Ward 1, said he didn’t think anyone at the meeting could say the council hadn’t had time to deliberate on the request.

But Thomas read aloud an email from Joseph asking what process the council uses to make decisions about use of public spaces for outdoor dining. The original plan for both Lion’s Den and Joseph’s pub was for use of the road next to those businesses. They planned to erect a shared deck, as they did in 2019 with Itali-ah, the former space where Lion’s Den is now located, according to Joseph.

“I learned via the City Council meeting that we were given permission to use the Haines Park space,” Joseph said in the email. “I was under the impression that the Haines space would be divided down the middle, allowing equal access to road frontage by both of our establishments. That was not the case. I was told that The Pub would occupy the back area of the park with no frontage, and the Den would have the front. This was a huge concern and not acceptable to me.”

Joseph went on to say that he was not asking for special exceptions — his concerns and questions are about the actual process for accessing public space for outdoor dining. He wanted to know, for instance, what steps are involved and how councilors make decisions about use of public space, whether space is allocated to more than one establishment and what process is in place for dividing the space equitably.

He also asked if an outdoor dining extension is being considered beyond the current end date of Nov. 1, whether it is the same process and whether ample notice would be given to all area restaurants to allow them the same opportunity and access:

“With Haines Park, are all restaurants in the vicinity being considered to use the space? Are permanent structures (walls, roofs) allowed on public space to accommodate winter weather? Are restaurants on Main Street, that do not currently have outdoor dining, being considered for other arrangements in order to make up for their lack of space?”

Joseph said he understands the council made special accommodations to alleviate the burden of COVID-19, but such accommodations and exceptions should be made fairly and equally, when possible.

“I’ve been a local, independent business owner 20-plus years. I love our small community and wish success to all my neighbors and area businesses. I would hope to be included in whatever process is in place for these decisions. I was not when the park space was allocated but hope to be in the future.”

Bergeron said Joseph did not want use of the park and reiterated that he told her he was too busy to discuss it.

“I’m sorry — I can’t wait for somebody who is too busy,” she said.

She disputed the idea that Joseph was not approached about the park use.

“He had a choice. He had the opportunity and he said no to it,” Bergeron said.

Diners sit Tuesday on the extended patio at Silver Street Tavern in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Silver Street Tavern owner Charlie Giguere went to Joseph’s defense Tuesday, saying he didn’t understand why the council had to vote on Bergeron’s request that night. With downtown revitalization plans, parking spaces will be lost and Silver Street’s patrons will need parking on The Concourse, Giguere said. He argued that an equitable arrangement should be made for all restaurants.

“Why would we lock ourselves into one, without having a plan for everything,” he asked.

“You need a ‘yes’ vote tonight?” Giguere asked. “Is it critical it happen tonight without further public discussion? I don’t think so.”

Meanwhile, Bergeron and Pelotte said they are exploring ideas for use of the park during the winter, when it will be too cold for people to eat full meals, but they may want drinks or hors d’ouevres. Possible ideas Bergeron cited were winter festivals, ice sculpting and use of fire pits, depending on fire department rules. She and Pelotte said they realized they will not be able to use the park forever because of changes that will occur to The Concourse with downtown revitalization.

Asked who is liable if someone on city property gets hurt, City Clerk Patti Dubois said the city requires businesses using public space sign a certificate of liability. Franke asked if that liability insurance covers walking across a public street to the park itself.

“I’m not 100% sure about that,” Dubois said.

Thomas made a motion to table making a decision until the next council meeting. Francke seconded his motion but the vote failed, 2-4.

The council then approved extending outdoor dining for the Lion’s Den to April by a 5-1 vote with Francke the lone dissenter.

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