STN Together sign on porch-042820  10694.JPG

House at the intersection of Route 1 and Greenhaven Road sports a large banner of encouragement on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Harold Hanka, The Westerly Sun

Connecticut businesses are preparing to reopen beginning May 20 under Gov. Ned Lamont’s latest timeline, and local towns are preparing in an effort to help businesses in the region hit the ground running.

Stonington and North Stonington are each hosting a virtual town hall meeting in the coming days in an effort to connect with residents and business owners on expectations and state regulations, as well as hearing from the public regarding ways the town could aid businesses who are starting back up.

North Stonington will host its virtual drop-in meeting Thursday at 6 p.m., while Stonington is scheduled to host its meeting Friday at 9 a.m. Both meetings are expected to take approximately an hour.

“The purpose of the meeting is to help get information from the governor’s office to the public and to receive input from local businesses on what they will need to find success,” said Stonington First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough. “Those who participate will be allowed to ask questions via chat, or we will unmute callers to allow them to ask questions at the end.”

Chesbrough and North Stonington First Selectman Mike Urgo each said this week that town officials are working with businesses to help them meet stringent guidelines regarding reopening, which were set forth by the governor’s office on May 9.

Under the governor’s phase-in reopening plan, certain businesses will be allowed to open again effective May 20 provided they meet state requirements to enhance safety and aid in crowd control. The first phase will allow for restaurants, office spaces, hair salons, barbershops, retail stores and outdoor museums or zoos to resume business.

In press conferences over the past week, Lamont has stated that the decision to reopen during this phase is up to business owners but they must meet specific guidelines set forth by the state. Restaurants, for example, may seat dine-in customers outdoors only with specific limits as to the number of guests, with limits per party.

Chesebrough said she hopes the meeting will allow officials to address concerns people may have. One such topic that is likely to come up will be parking regulations, which she said the town may consider adjusting in order to help restaurants remain viable.

“I’ve heard from several owners who have asked to close off a portion of their parking lots to be used to accommodate the outdoor dining requirement,” Chesebrough said. “The hope is, that while the town does require certain requirements for parking, those restrictions could be loosened while they are limited to half capacity.”

In North Stonington, Urgo said he has encouraged business owners to reopen at a pace they are comfortable with and one that will help to protect their customers and staff. He said the town does not have many businesses, but is focused on helping owners get back up and running to retain those who were active prior to the COVID-19 crisis.

“We are a different community with different needs. For those businesses who are here we want them to be able to not only continue to do business but to thrive coming out of this,” he said.

Urgo will help lead Thursday’s drop-in, which is part of a series he has done every few weeks through the crisis, and the program will include Ledge Light Health District Director Steven Mansfield and Ronnie Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and member of the Reopen Connecticut Small Business Implementation Task Force.

To join the event, call 1646558865 and use code 81140201062 or join via the zoom app. The event will be broadcast on the town of North Stonington’s YouTube channel and shared to its Facebook page.

The Stonington meeting, led by Chesebrough, will include Mansfield, Town Planner Keith Brynes and Susan Cullen, the recently hired director of economic and community development. The meeting will be streamed live on the town’s Facebook page, with residents and business owners able to join via Webex or Facebook Live, as well as by phone.

To join by phone, call 408-418-9388 with access code 711 500 109#. To join through Webex, use meeting number 711 500 109 and the password ZVb2tTfCK58. Meeting access by video can be done by dialing 711500109@townofstonington.webex.com.

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