One 53 Petitions for Permanent Outdoor Dining
By Rikki N. Massand l March 8, 2021
Rocky Hill’s cozy neighborhood restaurant and bar with the avant-garde name (One 53), put forth its comeback plan to borough council — suggesting a “permanent” outdoor dining concept complete with new seating, planters, and landscaping.
As One 53 approaches a full year of being shut down due to the pandemic, its opportunity to reopen comes with heavy concerns about its patrons’ long-term appetites for indoor dining, no matter how chic the restaurant or how many rave reviews from Zagat and The New York Times.
The state’s current 35 percent capacity limit on indoor restaurant dining, initiated in February, is far from the only motivation for permanent outdoor seating to be installed. Unlike the Rocky Hill Inn, the frontage of One 53 has a hill and grass. So the plan for outdoor dining with a Washington Street view involves strategic placement of tables, screening, and planters.
During the borough council meeting on February 17, One 53’s owners Caron Wendell and Joe McLaughlin, who live in town, discussed their goals. An application would need to be presented in haste to make it on the Planning Board’s March 18 agenda. The timeline may be unlikely though because One 53 first needs a zoning variance for outdoor dining.
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February’s Planning Board meeting was canceled so this topic could not come before that body in any informal fashion.
Wendell and McLaughlin opened One 53 in Rocky Hill in 2006, on the heels of their nearby successful artisan pasta shoppe — Lucy’s Kitchen & Market on Route 206. The consensus on council remains strong, in support of One 53’s goal to reopen and start its 16th year here at 153 Washington Street. But the process to get to that point, as well as council’s role in policy-making, became the larger subject of discussion at the meeting.
Borough Council President Irene Battaglia was vocal in her support for the proposal, but she noted that One 53’s location on busy main street is currently in a residentially-zoned district.
The council will consider drafting an ordinance to give the Planning Board a resource to permit outdoor dining, but will first seek input from the planning board. An ordinance could be tailored to apply to the One 53 property, “if it can’t work within the zoning districts that exist.” ■