A fourth establishment will be added to the Benton Street Boardwalk after the Woodstock City Council finalized the rules for the controversial outdoor dining project.

Benton Street Tap will join three other restaurants in using the “boardwalk,” a city-funded project that will provide space for restaurants to host al fresco dining. The plan has been criticized by people who said the boardwalk shows favoritism to a few businesses, including one owned by a council member, and could cause disturbances and parking hassles.

The project calls for the city to buy four removable decks — one for each participating restaurant — which will take up 12 parking spaces on the west side of Benton Street. The restaurants, all of which have entrances on that side of the street, will be able to use the decks for outdoor seating for their customers.

Councilman Dan Hart’s restaurant, D.C. Cobb’s, is included in the boardwalk plans, along with Main Street PourHouse, Mia Passione and Benton Street Tap. Hart recused himself from the vote.

Following a long discussion June 20, the council approved a set of rules, parking restrictions and liquor licenses for the boardwalk. Customers can’t drink alcohol on the boardwalk without ordering a meal, and so Benton Street Tap, which doesn’t currently serve food, was included in the plans only after owner Mark Bezik showed he was adding a menu of appetizers, sandwiches and flatbread pizzas.

The boardwalk will open no earlier than 11 a.m. and will close at 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The season will run from May 1 to Sept. 30.

Live acoustic music will be allowed and smoking will be prohibited.

Security cameras will monitor the area, and restaurant workers will be expected to keep an eye on customers seated on the boardwalk. Police also will patrol the area as part of their regular bar-checking duties.

“I think it behooves us to make sure there is enforcement,” Councilman Mark Saladin said. “… This is an important area and an important project, and it has to be done right.”

The City Council allocated up to $50,000 for the project, which includes spending on decorative lighting. The money will come from the city’s tax increment financing district fund.

Restaurants each will pay a flat $400 permit fee to use the boardwalk, plus an additional $1 for each square foot of public space they use. City Manager Roscoe Stelford said the city likely will direct the fees back into the TIF fund.

The regulations and licenses for the boardwalk were approved 4-1, with Mayor Brian Sager absent and Hart having recused himself. Because the  project was approved on a trial basis, the rules are subject to change, according to a city document.

Councilman Mike Turner said he expects the boardwalk to be installed by late July. He called the project “a public risk” for the council but said it could help to clean up Benton Street, an area he said needs improvement.

“It’s a good risk, in my opinion. I think it’s got great potential,” Turner said.
Councilman Jim Prindiville, a vocal opponent of the project, gave the lone “no” vote on the boardwalk rules. He previously voted against allocating money for the project, saying it was a bad use of TIF funds.

“I don’t think this project is right for our downtown as it exists today,” Prindiville said.

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