Diners sit Sept. 1, 2020, on the extended patio at Silver Street Tavern in Waterville. City Councilors voted Tuesday to allow restaurants to occupy outdoor space downtown to offer outdoor dining. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

WATERVILLE — Restaurants downtown have counted on outdoor dining to survive during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some restaurants with lots of outdoor space, including Silver Street Tavern, The Last Unicorn and Cancun on Silver Street, as well as the Lion’s Den on The Concourse, have had an easier time with their setups than others.

The Waterville City Council on Tuesday took steps to help restaurants with less space by voting to approve their requests for outdoor dining that includes use of sidewalks and, in some cases, parking spaces.

As City Manager Steve Daly said earlier in the week, the city is going to do everything possible to help eateries during the pandemic.

The council voted 7-0 Tuesday to approve an outdoor dining license for 20 Below, a new specialty sandwich shop on Silver Street, as well as an extended outdoor dining license for 18 Below, a separate operation run by the same owner.

Last outdoor dining season, 18 Below was allowed to use three parking spaces after 5 p.m. in front of State Farm Insurance, the latter of which is owned by John Fortier. Fortier plans to move his insurance office to Kennedy Memorial Drive, but has been delayed temporarily because of an internet connection issue, according to Council Chairman Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7. But Fortier and Travis LaJoy of 18 Below came to an agreement where the restaurant will do what it did last year and use the sidewalk for outdoor dining and cordon off the parking spaces after 5 p.m. for dining use, Thomas said.

“They’ll leave the parking spaces during the day,” he said.

Councilor Mike Morris, D-Ward 1, said he spoke with Fortier on Saturday and one of his concerns is, if he were to sell or lease the insurance office on Silver Street, he wanted to ensure the new owner or renter would have access to the parking spaces. Thomas proposed an amendment to the resolution that says the sidewalk in front of 18 Below would stretch to the new location at 20 Below, but the space to be used would not include the sidewalk in front of State Farm. The parking spaces there, however, could be used after 5 p.m. for dining, as part of the amendment. The council approved the amendment, 7-0, as well as the amended resolution.

Councilors also voted 7-0 to approve an extended outdoor dining license for Amici’s Cucina on Main Street, with Mayor Jay Coelho saying he and Thomas had both worked out a plan with Amici’s owner Mary Carpinito.

“We’ve got a pretty solid plan as to what we’re going to do,” Coelho said.

Councilor Rick Foss, R-Ward 5, said that last year, some dining was on Main Street itself, but he does not think that is safe.

“People are not going to be protected by a plastic chain,” he said.

Coelho said dining will be only on the sidewalk. Thomas added that he spoke with Carpinito and the owner of Opa, a restaurant next door, and a plan is in place that includes blocking off the sidewalk and installing a ramp and walkway.

“Essentially, the walkway will only take up half of the width of the parking space,” Thomas said.

They city will purchase planters to place around the outdoor dining, and the restaurants will do the planting itself and fund the ramps, Thomas said.

“I think it’s a win-win for everyone,” he said. “Both of the restaurant owners were on board with the plan, and I think there’s a way for us to do this safely.”

While Councilor Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, asked if the issue could be postponed until the next meeting to provide time for the city’s public safety officials to deem the plan safe, Daly sought to assure him it would be OK to vote Tuesday, subject to satisfying public safety officials. Adjustments could be made to the plan if needed to ensure a safe environment, he said. Francke asked if an amendment should be made to approve the license, contingent on public safety confirmation, and the council approved that amendment. Councilors voted 7-0 to approve an extended outdoor dining license for Opa, with the same conditions.

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