WOODMERE — Council voted to allow Stark Enterprises to use greenhouses for outdoor dining this winter at Eton Chagrin Boulevard. Stark representative Aileen Sexton Kopfinger said that the restaurants have been struggling while following the state-ordered COVID-19 guidelines including to socially distance their customers. The greenhouses would allow the restaurants to seat more people in a safe manner.

Gov. Mike DeWine put orders in place for restaurants to set up tables at least 6 feet apart or use dividers to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Many communities adjusted their rules allowing restaurants to seat more patrons outside. For example, the Original Pancake House set up umbrella tables outside through October.

“As you know, all of our restaurants have been having issues with trying to seat people inside due to restrictions due to COVID-19,” Ms. Kopfinger said at the Nov. 10 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. “We’re trying to help them out as best we can with winter coming.”

Stark Enterprises requested 25 greenhouses that could be placed in the patio areas of Mitchell’s Fish Market, Paladar Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar, Taza Lebanese Grill and B Spot Burgers. Even though Bravo! Italian Kitchen and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse are closed, Stark is seeking to use those patios also if a tenant comes in soon.

Ms. Kopfinger said that each greenhouse is 6-by-8 feet. Each one would have a heater with an automatic shut-off if it falls over. She said that there would be Christmas lights strung in the greenhouses to light it. For each restaurant, greenhouses must fit within the existing patio space to conform with the liquor permit. Planning Commission Chairman Seth Young said that the greenhouses are a great idea.

Building Commissioner Rick Loconti said that these are “tent-like structures” so the fire department must review them to determine their fire resistance and how far each structure should be spaced from another. The greenhouses have a metal frame with a plastic covering. Mr. Loconti said that the village may not approve as many as Stark requested due to safety concerns.

“I want to make sure that our businesses have as much opportunity to compete as everybody else,” Mayor Ben Holbert said. He asked that the planning commission and the administration help Stark Enterprises to get this done as soon as possible so they can use the greenhouses.

Fire Chief Johnny Brewington shared a memo from the state fire marshal’s office. It gives various regulations for “tents and membrane structures,” including rules to ensure that the egress remains unobstructed and visible and no smoking is permitted. Law Director Frank Consolo was not sure if this memo applies to greenhouses, so Chief Brewington said he would check with the state fire marshal. Mr. Loconti said that these are unlike anything he has seen before for this use.

“We’re going to have to be really careful here,” the building commissioner said. “I want the restaurants to be successful, I want the mall to be successful, but my concern is the safety of the people inside these things. They’re going to have to heat them and put lights in them, and the egress out if one of these things does go up [in flames] is a concern as well.”

Mr. Loconti said that the lights in the greenhouses will have to be LED lighting and the heater must be ceramic with no flame. He said that he will defer to the fire department for their fire resistance rating. Mr. Young said that the greenhouses need to be as safe as possible, but the planning commission should not waste time. By recommending the motion to council at the Nov. 10 planning commission meeting, council could approve it the next day at their meeting, which they did.

Mr. Loconti and Chief Brewington will determine how many greenhouses can be placed at Eton based on how far apart they need to be for safety reasons. The greenhouses can be used through May 1, 2021.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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