Chamber News

September 30, 2020 Likes Comments

Welcome to Phase Three, Step Two*

Gov. Charlie Baker continues to loosen restrictions on economic activities.

Yesterday he announced that communities with low transmission rates can proceed with step two of his Phase Three reopening plan.

The changes, effective Monday (Oct. 5), include:
  • Indoor performance venues will be permitted to open with 50% capacity with a maximum of 250 people.
  • Outdoor performance venue capacity will increase to 50% with a max of 250 people.
  • For arcades and indoor and outdoor recreation businesses, additional Step 2 activities like trampolines, obstacle courses, roller rinks and laser tag will also be permitted to open and capacity will increase to 50%.
  • Fitting rooms will be permitted to open in all types of retail stores.
  • Gyms, museums, libraries and driving and flight schools will also be permitted to increase their capacity to 50%.
*Cities or towns that have been designated "red" in the Department of Public Health's color-coded system are not permitted to proceed with the reopenings above. Needham, Watertown and Wellesley all have a “green” designation in the latest ratings. Newton has a “yellow" designation.
Gatherings, too
Baker also signed this order updating limitations on gatherings.
  • The limit for indoor gatherings remains at a maximum of 25 people for all communities.
  • Outdoor gatherings at private residences and in private backyards will remain at a maximum of 50 people for all communities.
  • Outdoor gatherings at event venues and in public settings will have a limit of 50 people in Step 1 communities, and a limit of 100 people in lower risk, Step 2 communities.
Updated protocols for the impacted industries and businesses will be posted on the state's reopening website this week.
Why did Baker do it now?
Baker said his administration has “learned a lot from watching what's going on in other states, especially in the northeast region, and similar changes elsewhere have not led to significant transmission there.” (State House News story )
And what did they learn?
That virus transmission really hasn’t been happening when business and individuals follow the rules.
"What has been particularly interesting about the summer is very, very few examples of significant spread have occurred in organized, structured, rule-based settings," he said.
"Most of our new cases, most of our clusters, have involved unstructured, non-rule-based gatherings -- celebrations, parties that have taken place between and among people where there aren't any rules."
"The greatest risk" comes from unsupervised or more casual gatherings where attendees are not vigilant about maintaining distance or wearing face coverings.
"If people are going to go inside, which they probably will, I would much rather have them go inside in organized and supervised ways with rules than in unorganized, unsupervised ways with no rules," he said.
But he also warned that “it’s quite possible Massachusetts could see more cases as people head indoors in the fall. That is one of the main reasons we cannot quit and should not quit now.”
‘Stop making us all look bad’
And what about businesses that don’t follow the protocols?
Like, the new poster child for horrid behavior, Salt Bae’s Nusr-Et steakhouse in the Back Bay, which was shut down Saturday, just days after opening, for failure to obey social distancing rules, table capacities and other complaints.
Fellow restaurateurs are mortified .
“We are working so hard. I don’t understand how anyone makes a decision like that,” Kathy Sidell, of Met Back Bay and Saltie Girl tells the Globe’s Kara Baskin.
“It’s super irresponsible, and I hate to say it about a fellow restaurateur.
“It could ruin it for all of us. That’s the bottom line. We all want to feel safe. We literally spray the tables with three different disinfectants. The rules apply to you, no matter how theatrical you are. This is not an auspicious start, in terms of the community. We’re fighting so hard to stay in business."
Needham official can’t explain Newton’s decision
Closer to home, the TAB’s Julie Cohen looks into Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s opposition to a one-time reduction in liquor license fees to help our struggling restaurants.
The mayor says the city can’t afford the $200,000 hit to the city budget.
Separately, the city’s attorney, Maura O’Keefe, says the reduction is not allowed under the state’s “anti-aid amendment,” which prohibits the giving of money or property by a city or town to or in aid of any individual, association or corporation embarking upon any private enterprise.
“I am shocked that the anti-aid amendment is being used in this instance,” City Council President Susan Albright, who made the proposal in August, told the TAB.
Needham Select Board member John Bulian says the anti-aid amendment was a non-issue when the town voted to give their restaurants the exact same break.
“We’re not giving money away,” he said. “All we’re doing is reducing a fee based on reduction of cost... We’re trying to help our businesses.”
O’Keefe said at a Sept. 15 meeting (audio here) that she had no idea how come Needham felt the fee cut was permissible. She cited "attorney client privilege" when the chamber filed for a Freedom of Information Act request for more information.
The license commission will vote on the matter on Oct. 6. If it fails, bills will be sent to restaurants at the end of the month.
Needham considers 155 senior apartments
Needham Town Meeting will vote Sunday (Oct. 4) on a proposal to create 155 senior housing apartments (including 72 independent living, 55 assisted living and 28 memory care units) across from the Trader Joes and commuter rail station in Needham Heights.
The Residence at Carter Mill would be developed by the Norwood-based LCB Senior Living. The building has been vacant since 2017 and was previously used for a nursing home, assisted living community and medical offices.
“The proximity of the train, Center at the Heights, restaurants and many retail options, is an ideal location for age-restricted housing,” said Ted Doyle of LCB.
LCB is requesting a zoning change to allow the new uses and to allow ten rooftop apartments, which will be set far back from the street and occupy approximately one-third of the roof area.
The Planning Board, Select Board and Finance Committee have all voted to support the two proposed warrant articles.
New at The Street
Eyeglass retailer Warby Parker has opened a new location The Street in Chestnut Hill, Patch reports. The Chestnut Hill location is the chain's fifth store in the area and first location outside a major downtown here.
Tonight: Needham St/Highland Ave meeting
Yes, I keep mentioning this (because it's important):
Tonight (Weds.) from 6:30-9 p.m. via Zoom, MassDOT will discuss its $30 million redesign of the Needham Street Highland Ave corridor. Register here. Go here for more information. Project organizers will introduce the contractor P. Gioioso & Sons and discuss the construction schedule and sequencing.
And the good news? We really need the rain.
Be back tomorrow. Mask up.
President, Newton-Needham Regional Chamber
Your chamber is here when you need us.



P.S. Calling all young professionals! The chamber's young professionals group (open to members ages 21 to 40) is currently recruiting. The group, which meets monthly over zoom, is a great opportunity to connect with other YPs, to share and learn from each other, brainstorm opportunities to engage area professionals ages 21-40 and to discuss topics relevant to our demographic. For more information about how you or your employees can get involved -- contact Katherine Herer


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