Ligonier Borough officials are taking a step to help local restaurants survive the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its resulting economic challenges.
Council on Thursday voted to suspend the section of the borough’s sidewalk café ordinance that prohibits alcoholic beverages from being served or consumed in the outdoor café area until the end of October.
Some key conditions apply before restaurants can start serving. A restaurant must have an approved sidewalk café permit from Ligonier Borough and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) must approve extending the restaurant’s liquor license to encompass the café area.
“Just because we’re lifting this part of the ordinance doesn’t give them automatic ability to serve in the sidewalk café. They need to go through the PLCB on this and if they don’t, they could lose their license. That’s extremely important to point out,” said councilman Nate Sylvester, who proposed the idea.
In addition, alcohol can only be provided to customers seated in the sidewalk café.
“We don’t want any pop-up bars popping up on the sidewalk and/or people walking around with open containers,” Sylvester said.
He added that he consulted with Ligonier Borough solicitor George Welty on council’s options regarding the sidewalk café ordinance.
Council’s decision comes amid reports on social media and via news outlets that Governor Tom Wolf was expected to halt indoor dining for bars and restaurants in Westmoreland County.
As of Thursday evening, neither the governor nor the Pennsylvania Department of Health had issued that directive. Westmoreland County remains in the green phase of reopening the state’s economy, where eateries can operate at 50% capacity and offer indoor and outdoor dining, along with takeout service that includes alcohol.
With the exception of president Sam St. Clair, who was absent, all council members present at Thursday’s meeting were in favor of the temporary sidewalk café ordinance change.
Council elected to suspend Section 8-E of Ordinance 544, which was passed in 2009, only until Oct. 31, but some members indicated they were open to making the change permanent.
“I’m definitely for doing that, at least for an interim basis, if not permanently, if we can. I think whatever we can do to support the local restaurants, who are obviously being hit hard by this, we need to try to do. And I agree with the guidelines that you’ve outlined, for what the contingencies are for how this can happen,” councilwoman Mariah Fisher said.
Any restaurant that doesn’t currently have a sidewalk café permit may apply for one at no cost. The application is available from Ligonier Borough’s website or its office at Town Hall.
Applicants must provide a certificate of insurance also covering Ligonier Borough, plus submit a detailed site plan for the proposed café area that follows certain design standards. Sylvester also encouraged the community to contact the Ligonier Borough office with any other ideas that can help officials navigate the current health crisis.
“During these unprecedented times, we need to realize that our strength lies in the dynamic ability of our small, close-knit community to band together. And with that, we need to do both our part in controlling the COVID-19 virus and support the local small businesses,” Sylvester said. He also urged all Ligonier residents and visitors to continue following state and national health guidelines regarding COVID-19, including wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands and staying home when sick.
Council continues to meet remotely for its regular monthly meetings over the Zoom online video conferencing application amid COVID-19 concerns. Members also agreed to keep the Town Hall auditorium, community room and upstairs meeting rooms closed to the public for another month.
In other business, council voted to pass a joint resolution with Ligonier Township to collaborate on an extension of the Ligonier Valley hiking and biking trail that would eventually connect Laughlintown to the Diamond.
Ligonier Borough and Ligonier Township have already applied for a Pennsylvania Department of Health WalkWorks program grant that would be used to plan and design a route linking various sites between the village and borough, including Ligonier Beach, Fort Ligonier and the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art.
The money could fund the trail design or necessary rights-of-way for the route, rather than the actual trail construction. The municipalities won’t know until September if they’ve been awarded the estimated $10,000-$20,000 grant, Fisher said.
Expanding the Ligonier Valley Trail is one goal of the Ligonier Valley Joint Comprehensive Plan, which recommends efforts to improve pedestrian and bicycle access and reduce vehicular traffic.
The resolution also notes that four of the five villages in Ligonier Township are not currently connected to each other or to Ligonier Borough by any kind of trail.
The EADS Group, which serves as the engineering firm for both the borough and township, will guide the trail development. EADS previously provided the Ligonier Township’s board of supervisors with a draft map of the proposed route and alternatives.
Officials are also facing some problems with Diamond Park, including ailing trees and two recent car accidents that marred the island.
Fisher at last month’s council meeting reported that three trees on the Diamond were not doing well. The news came after the borough last fall replaced two trees that succumbed to root rot after they were planted as part of the 2018 Diamond Park renovation.
Bartlett Tree Experts is treating the foliage, while the public works department plans to remove some dead limbs.
“No decisions need to be made at this point, We’re going to try to give them another month, hoping that they perk back up, but, as I’m sure we’ve noticed, it’s not looking great,” Fisher said.
The borough is awaiting police reports and assessments from its insurance company before contractors can repair damage from two car accidents last weekend. On Saturday, a vehicle traveling up South Market Street hit flower beds and bent a sign, while on Sunday a car backing up from the ice cream parlor hit the brick behind the seating area on the island, cracking two capstones.
The public safety committee is seeking a new emergency management coordinator for Ligonier Borough, following Gene Stouffer’s resignation.
Council will submit its recommended candidate to Gov. Wolf’s office, which will officially appoint a candidate to the role.
In other personnel business, council also voted to promote parking enforcement officer Toni Ulery back to full-time status. Ulery had been working part-time since council reinstated her last month, following a furlough.
Sylvester noted the borough is now receiving additional revenue from parking meters and the fines.
Council also voted to opt out of a joint Dumpster Days recycling event with Ligonier Township this year and instead plan its own event next year.
The decision was made due to employee overtime pay and past lack of participation from borough residents, councilman Robert Barron explained.
Ligonier Borough Council’s next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 13.