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City Council OK's sidewalk dining year-round

By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / May 21, 2009
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Imagine enjoying that extraordinary warm, sunny day in March with a meal at a sidewalk patio overlooking the Back Bay. Under new city rules, it can happen in March, September, or even January.

The City Council agreed last night to permit sidewalk dining year round, giving restaurant owners the discretion in deciding when they want to set up sidewalk seating. Until yesterday, permits were only allowed from May through October.

Restaurants will still need city permits, and the permits may have conditions for setting up patio tables outside the summer months.

But the decision, by a unanimous vote, gives the option to restaurant owners, who have seen too many nice days pass by without being able to take advantage of them because of the time restraints.

"It's good for business, and it was intended to celebrate one of the nice aspects of Boston: outdoor dining and something really positive in our community," Council President Michael Ross said last night.

The council also passed three home-rule petitions meant to soften the blow the mortgage crisis has dealt the city.

The three petitions will be sent to the Legislature for consideration.

Sponsored by Councilor Chuck Turner, the petitions would create a 160-day moratorium on foreclosures; create a city mediation program for lenders and mortgagees that would be mandatory before any foreclosure occurs; and provide basic tenant rights for owners who occupy their own homes and are foreclosed on.

Under the last petition, the owner would have the opportunity to pay fair market rent and could not be evicted by the bank without just cause, the same protections for any tenant.

Ross said the council sent the petitions to the State House seeking immediate help with what he called a rising tide of foreclosures in the city, with little help from state and federal governments.

"We need relief for this issue, and we're not seeing that relief," he said.

Milton Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com.