Outdoor dining in downtown Frederick will continue despite concerns about its impact on merchants other than restaurant owners in the area.
The Frederick aldermen approved three measures Thursday night to extend the operation of outdoor dining in parklets and public property downtown — and on private property in other parts of the city — and to continue expanded operations of food trucks in the city.
Each of the measures extends to either 30 days past the end of the city’s state of emergency or Oct. 31, whichever comes first.
Mayor Michael O’Connor extended the city’s state of emergency on Aug. 25.
When the Board of Aldermen agreed to extend the city’s state of emergency early in the pandemic, O’Connor believed the city would lift it at the same time as the state lifted its policy, he said Thursday.
And when Gov. Larry Hogan began the process to lift the state’s emergency policy in July, health metrics looked very different than today.
The mayor apologized to the aldermen for not being able to follow through on his promise but said everyone hoped a year ago that they wouldn’t still be talking about the pandemic in September 2021.
The aldermen unanimously approved the items for outdoor dining on private property and for food trucks. Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak opposed the item for downtown parklet areas, citing its impact on nonrestaurant businesses.
Alderman Roger Wilson asked city Economic Development Director Richard Griffin what the city was doing to help retailers who have complained that the dining areas are blocking access to their businesses.
The parklets use 38 metered spaces out of several hundred metered spaces on Market Street and about 150 along the areas of Patrick Street that have restaurants, Griffin said.
They’ve tried to make sure people coming downtown can easily get into the city’s parking garages, he said.
“Is there no impact? I would say there is some impact,” Griffin said.
Kuzemchak noted that 38 spaces is about 20 percent of the available parking spaces.
She said she hasn’t seen any positive comments about the parklets from merchants that aren’t restaurants.
Alderman Ben MacShane argued that the conversation shouldn’t be about balancing between groups of business owners but rather what’s best for public health.
It’s incredibly frustrating that the aldermen still have to sit on the dais with masks on, especially since the development of vaccines, he said.
The city needs more residents to take responsibility for collective public health, he said.
“My daughter started kindergarten this year, and she’s never seen her teacher’s face,” he said. “And she’s never seen the faces of the other kids in the class.”
MacShane said he appreciates the impact on businesses, but the priority needs to be on what’s best for the public.
“The truth is, we still have an emergency going on here,” he said.