March 20, 2024

Updated Outdoor Dining Ordinance Passed by Princeton Council

By Anne Levin

At its March 14 meeting, Princeton Council voted in favor of an “Outdoor Dining” ordinance that replaces the “Sidewalk Cafes” ordinance dating back to 1974. The new measure recognizes changes brought on by such factors as the widening of sidewalks on Witherspoon Street, and the increased demand for outdoor dining that was particularly strong during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ordinance addresses such issues as the width of pedestrian passageways, control of trash, seating, fee structure, furnishings, design guidelines, and the maintenance of the dining areas. It was voted in after removing the allowance of retractable awnings.

The approval applies to thoroughfares other than Nassau Street, for which Council is awaiting a decision by the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT). The DOT has jurisdiction over Nassau Street, since it is a state right of way.

Municipal staff worked with local restaurants and Experience Princeton to come up with the new ordinance.

“I really appreciate the work that Experience Princeton did with municipal staff to resolve a lot of the outstanding issues,” said Councilwoman Michelle Pirone Lambros. “We’ve really arrived at a solid ordinance.”

Councilman David Cohen said he was 99 percent in support of the ordinance, but had concerns about the use of the use of partitions. He referred specifically to PJ’s Pancake House on Nassau Street, which has had outdoor dining with partitions for years.

“I’ve always felt uncomfortable using the sidewalk there, because you feel like you’re walking through private space, through the restaurant,” he said. “I’d rather see it without partitions.”
Municipal Engineer Deanna Stockton said that PJ’s actually owns about six feet of the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. “Our ordinance would not apply to private property where site plan approval is needed through the Planning Board,” she said.

Hibben Road resident Karen O’Connell brought up the idea of waste disposal. “It needs to be fully addressed,” she said. “Storage of any waste must be in a secured, stored container. In the past, some rat bait stations were right next to where people ate.”

Stockton said that issue is addressed in the ordinance.

Full details of the ordinance as proposed are available in the agenda packet from Council’s February 26 meeting, when it was introduced, at The next public meeting of Council is Monday, March 25 at 7 p.m.