New option for sidewalk seating appears close in Bennington

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BENNINGTON — The Select Board on Monday moved a step closer to allowing Bennington's first cafe seating proposal to extend the sidewalk surface out from the existing curb on Main Street.

The board unanimously approved the project design for the creation of 12 to 16 seats at tables in front of the former Carmody's restaurant at 421 Main St., which is being renovated by the new owner into the 421 Taproom.

Owner Michael Madison plans a glass, garage-style door on the existing structure facing the street. The door can be lifted during good weather to allow patio seating.

Assistant Town Manager and Planning Director Daniel Monks said the Planning Commission has approved of the design and, if the Select Board also approves, town staff members will work with the Madisons toward a formal agreement on use of the space.

Officials also will create a town policy so that other such requests can be acted on in an equitable manner, he said. Monks added that another Main Street business, which did not want to be identified publicly at this time, has inquired about a similar proposal.

"Really, kind of all we are looking for is: Do you think this works; do you want us to enter into detailed negotiations with these folks in regard to that space," Monks told board members.

He added that the project "kind of sets a precedent for us, although it is not in other communities. Communities across the county have cafe space licenses, etc."

The goal, he said, is to work out a proposal and also develop a policy within the next couple of weeks.

The town already has a license that can be granted for outdoor seating on a sidewalk, but this is the first proposal Bennington has received to extend and alter the sidewalk. The proposal would eliminate three parking spaces in front of the taproom and the Bennington Banner building, and would extend the curb from an existing bulb-out in the sidewalk at a crosswalk for about 60 feet along the front of the two buildings.

Monks said the street already is narrowed by the pedestrian bulb-out in that section on both sides of the crosswalk, so extending the curb by the same amount should not slow traffic.

The project, being designed for the owner by Geoffrey Metcalfe, of Keefe and Wesner Architects of North Bennington, calls for the patio section to be fenced off from the rest of the sidewalk. The short steel black rail fence will be about 12.5 feet from the front of the building. There will be 5 feet of concrete sidewalk and about 3 feet of brick for a pedestrian walkway.

Madison has agreed to pay for the improvements. He said he hopes to open the new section in the spring.

Part of the agreement to be worked out with Madisons will be the rental price for the approximately 370 square feet of town sidewalk space, which the owner would control, according to Town Manager Stuart Hurd.

The manager said he asked Town Assessor John Antognioni for a preliminary estimate of the reasonable rental value of the section, which was determined at $2,000 per year.

The board, which had heard a detailed description of the proposal at its Sept. 26 meeting, unanimously approved the design on Monday. Monks said a formal agreement and a new town policy for handling future requests could be ready for the board to review within two weeks.

Madison is co-owner of Madison Brewing Co. Pub & Restaurant, which is located across the street from the Taproom. He purchased the vacant former Carmody's property in 2014 for $240,000.

Board Chairman Tom Jacobs said he believes town officials have reviewed the proposal enough so they could consider a proposal and policy agreement at the next meeting in two weeks.

Jim Therrien covers Southern Vermont news for the Bennington Banner and VtDigger.org. He can be reached at 802-447-7567, Ext. 114.


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