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Allowing dogs on decks and at outdoor bars considered in Portsmouth

Union Leader Correspondent

October 17. 2017 11:57PM
A recent photo of Fezziwig's Food and Fountain, a French style caf in Portsmouth. City councilors are discussing proposed ordinance amendments for their restaurants in the Port City. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

PORTSMOUTH — City Council members in Portsmouth discussed outdoor bar areas and allowing dogs on decks at local restaurants during their meeting Monday night.

The council is in the process of reviewing proposed ordinance amendments to the city’s food licensing regulations. Restaurants are a major economic driver in Portsmouth, and with more than 25,000 restaurant seats, there are more seats than residents in the city.

Health officer Kim McNamara said under state law and the FDA Food Code, dogs are not allowed on decks, but if a restaurant owner can prove they have the ability to protect the public’s health, the Portsmouth Health Department can grant permission to allow dogs in outdoor dining areas.

“We’re looking at a potential variance moving forward. Nashua was just looking at one, I don’t know if they were successful,” McNamara said.

McNamara explained why dogs are not permitted on decks in most places. She said dogs carry diseases, have accidents, shouldn’t be eating human food, and affect people with allergies.

City Councilor Nancy Pearson asked about enclosures for outside bars and patios.

McNamara said any areas where food and drinks are prepared need to be protected so rodents and insects cannot get into equipment.

Pearson asked if plastic or a boat tarp would be enough, and McNamara said they would not be because that would not be permanent enough to prevent contamination.

Prior to that discussion, councilors talked about language surrounding change in ownership for the purposes of submitting plans to the city and the appeals process.

“It’s exceedingly rare that anyone needs to go through an appeals process,” McNamara said. She told the council the health department works with restaurant owners to make sure they are compliant.

Councilor Brad Lown said the likely reason why appeals are rare is because the average restaurant owner doesn’t want to spend the time and money to go through the process.

“In many instances, I am sure they just knuckle under and do what they’re told,” Lown said.

Lown recommended creating a board to hear appeals to make the process “a little more objective.”

Councilor Eric Spear expressed concern that other council members were focused on benefiting businesses instead of the residents they represent.

“Everything we’ve been talking about so far is accommodating the business owners. I think our main job as councilors is to make sure that people go into a restaurant knowing they’re going to get safe food. That’s the whole purpose of the code,” Spear said.

The council will discuss the proposed ordinance amendments again at their Nov. 20 meeting.

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