Shirley Select Board delays decision on outdoor dining
Shirley Select Board delays decision on outdoor dining

SHIRLEY — The Select Board at its meeting May 17 reviewed an outdoor dining application from the Brookside Grill on Main Street, which, as owner Ryan DeWolf said, is the “smallest dine-in restaurant with a liquor license” in town.

The Brookside is also a relative newcomer still gaining in popularity when restaurants across the state were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

Previously, the building the DeWolfs — Ryan and his mother, Tracy — now own housed a series of small eateries, including a sandwich shop, a Chinese restaurant and a pizza place. It had been vacant awhile when they bought and remodeled it. The new restaurant opened in 2018.

The adjacent lot is town property and has been designated a “municipal parking” area. The lot is unpaved and borders wetlands, as do portions of the restaurant property.

The wetlands issue is one of several problems discussed at the recent meeting, most of which stemmed from missing paperwork, permits the owners had failed to apply for. There are issues with the building inspector, the Conservation Commission and the Nashoba Board of Health (NABH), Town Administrator Michael McGovern said. Most of the issues related to the restaurant’s outdoor dining layout include unauthorized tree-clearing and landscaping near wetlands, and an on-site dumpster, as well as added amenities such as live music.

When the Brookside filed its original application for outdoor dining in June 2020, the option was new, part of the governor’s phased-in reopening plan. All establishments that wanted to set up outdoors had to submit proposals — temporary plans — to the town, McGovern said.

At that time, the board approved six outdoor tables for the Brookside Grill. Now, there are 14 tables, he said. Plus live music, which was not part of the proposal and the board did not OK.

Even if approved, there would be rules regarding live music that are not being followed, apparently. For example, band members must be 25 feet apart during performances, with the same distance between performers and front seats in the audience. Given the available space, it would seem unlikely the restaurant could meet those benchmarks, McGovern said.

But that’s not the issue. Nor is the tent and gazebo, which posed problems but was not “the crux of the matter,” McGovern said. “Having a tent on town property is one thing” but the dumpster is a different story, he said.

“They (the owners) keep bringing up ancillary issues,” he said in a later conversation with the Nashoba Valley Voice, such as a “rider” on their insurance policy that the owners feel protects the town from liability issues that Chairman Andree Jean Jacques brought up at the meeting. McGovern thinks it’s unlikely.

“I realize there are rules we all have to follow and that people make mistakes,” Select Board member Debra Flagg said. “I do not want to lose a business.”

“Nobody wants to hurt a business, but everybody must follow the rules,” McGovern said later.

At the meeting, he said the music venue was set up without clearing it with the town, and it is out of line with the state’s emergency guidelines, which stipulated that the dine-in/dine-out option was only for serving meals and that restaurant customers must come for that purpose and spend only a specific amount of time at their tables. They can’t, for example, just sit down, order drinks and stay for hours, enjoying the music. Not yet, anyway.

The temporary, emergency permit the Brookside and other restaurants with tables outside are operating under ends June 16, and McGovern said it’s unclear yet whether the outdoor dining option will be included in the new normal, at least for the summer.

The DeWolfs agreed to deal with the outstanding issues standing in the way now, including permits, back-taxes and an order of conditions they must file with the Conservation Commission. The board agreed to reconsider the application in two weeks, subject to meeting those conditions. In the meantime, the outdoor setup can stay as is, the board said.