Editorial: Table Manners

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It is easy to feel the frustration of members of the Sag Harbor Village Board, who each summer season look on as Main Street restaurants take advantage of the easy terms of a village licensing arrangement to move some of their tables outdoors, but somehow can’t find the time to take care of nagging matters like the need for a building permit for that new garbage can enclosure.

But announcing, as the board did last week, that it would no longer issue a license to a restaurant that has any outstanding issues — whether it be a serious safety issue, or an incomplete site-plan application — seems to be a bit of overkill, especially coming as it did with little in the way of advance notice.

While it is true outdoor dining licenses are a privilege, not a right, as village officials are quick to point out, a decision that could effectively end the practice on Main Street this year could also wind up imposing an onerous financial punishment on business owners for issues that are simply not that serious.

To be sure, the village should act swiftly and decisively if inspectors uncover serious safety issues, such as inadequate fire exits. It can do that by seeking a court injunction against a property owner who refuses to remedy such a problem in a timely manner.

Similarly, revoking a license might be warranted for a case in which a property owner has simply refused to file for or complete an application for major site-plan issues. But in cases in which a property owner is trying to comply with zoning requirements that sometimes take a year or more to resolve, the threat to not issue a dining license is extreme. Instead, the village should be willing to work with property owners to make sure they are on track and not simply twiddling their thumbs as they wait for another season to come and go.

Like it or not, Sag Harbor is a tourist town. As rents rise, businesses rely ever more on maximizing income during the short summer window. A vibrant street scene, in which shops are open, and outdoor restaurant tables crowded with diners, is one of the village’s chief attractions. This type of activity should be encouraged, with reasonable restrictions, not forced out.

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