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Woodstock council votes to approve Benton Street outdoor dining plan

H. Rick Bamman file photo –
The Woodstock City Council voted Tuesday to approve the proposal for an outdoor dining boardwalk on Benton Street. The board also approved a set of rules, regulations and liquor licenses.
H. Rick Bamman file photo – The Woodstock City Council voted Tuesday to approve the proposal for an outdoor dining boardwalk on Benton Street. The board also approved a set of rules, regulations and liquor licenses.

WOODSTOCK – Outdoor dining is coming to Benton Street this summer after city council members approved a set of rules, regulations and liquor licenses for a controversial plan.

Woodstock City Council voted Tuesday to move forward with the controversial Benton Street outdoor dining boardwalk that will allow four restaurants to provide seasonal al fresco dining on Benton Street between East Judd and Church streets. The idea has been debated heavily since its introduction, with residents bringing forth concern about misuse of taxpayer dollars, favoritism and reduced parking in the Square.

The city will buy decking to create a boardwalk that will shut down 12 parking spaces on the west side of the street. Lighting also will be installed. Four restaurants, including Mia Passione, Main Street PourHouse, Benton Street Tap and D.C Cobb’s, plan to participate in the project. Council member Dan Hart owns D.C Cobb’s, and recused himself from the discussion and voting Tuesday.

City council members approved liquor licenses and an overarching set of rules and regulations for participation Tuesday. The space will close at 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Smoking will be prohibited in the area, and alcohol service won’t be allowed unless patrons are eating a meal.

A security camera will monitor and record activities on the boardwalk.

Enforcement of the rules was discussed at length.

“I think it behooves us to make sure there is enforcement,” said council member Mark Saladin. “I am in favor of [the project] but want to make sure we … understand there has to be an enforcement element a little over and above what we normally see because this is an important area and an important project.”

The city allocated $50,000 to go toward improving Benton Street, which many say is overrun with bars and bad behavior. The city currently is in discussion with contractors to get the space up and running for the season, said City Manager Roscoe Stelford.

Restaurants will pay a fee to use the spaces, set at $400 a season with an additional $1 for each square foot of space it uses. The space will be gated off after hours in an effort to prevent people from loitering in the areas. The season will run May 1 to Sept. 30, according to city documents.

Benton Street Tap, which currently doesn’t sell food, will be allowed to participate in the plan because owner Mark Bezik plans to begin serving meals such as flatbreads, appetizers and sandwiches.

Council member Mike Turner said that he has discussed the rules at length with restaurant owners and made it clear that this is a trial and rules have to be followed.

“I made it clear to all of them that the council – should this pass – is taking a risk, a public risk,” he said. “I know they are clear about the expectations.”

The vote passed, 4-1, with Mayor Brian Sager absent and Hart recused. Council member Jim Prindiville voting against it. He has been vocal against the project since its introduction.

“I am not in favor,” he said. “I don’t think this project is right for our downtown as it exists today.”

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