The city of Frederick has extended the era of outdoor dining on the streets of the historic district, making the right call to continue to support our struggling restaurant sector.
The Board of Aldermen last week approved extending the operation of outdoor dining in “parklets” and other public property downtown, on private property in other parts of the city and of food trucks. The parklets do take away some on-street parking downtown.
The temporary rules have been tied to the state of emergency declared early in the coronavirus pandemic. But the fast rise of the COVID-19 delta variant in late July and August caused some confusion.
Gov. Larry Hogan began the process of lifting his statewide declaration in early July, when the pandemic seemed to be ebbing. But after infections soared once again in midsummer, Mayor Michael O’Connor decided to extend the city’s state of emergency on Aug. 25. So far, the governor has not extended his declaration for the whole state.
The legislation passed last week specified that the new rules will expire 30 days after the end of the city’s state of emergency, or Oct. 31, whichever comes first.
According to News-Post reporter Ryan Marshall, the mayor apologized to the board for needing to seek the extension, but he noted that a year ago, everyone did not expect to still be dealing with the pandemic in September 2021.
The aldermen unanimously approved two items relating to outdoor dining on private property and for food trucks. But on the legislation allowing for downtown parklet areas to continue, Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak was opposed.
She said the loss of parking spots on the streets was hurting other businesses even as it was helping restaurants. It is a legitimate concern for the city, and generally we should not be favoring some businesses at the expense of others. But this case is different.
The parklets take away 38 metered spaces out of several hundred spaces on Market Street and about 150 along Patrick Street, city Economic Development Director Richard Griffin told the board.
The city has tried to make certain that drivers can easily get into the city’s parking garages, he said. But Griffin conceded that other businesses have been affected.
“Is there no impact? I would say there is some impact,” Griffin said.
Arguing in favor of the legislation, Alderman Ben MacShane said the choice is not about balancing between businesses but rather what’s best for public health.
MacShane said: “The truth is, we still have an emergency going on here.”
He is correct. The country just passed 40 million infections, and 4 million of them occurred in the past four weeks, according to Johns Hopkins University.
MacShane’s line of reasoning sounds right to us. Many people are leery of eating in an indoor restaurant because of the risk of getting the virus, even if they are protected by being vaccinated. Others are concerned about contracting the virus and spreading it to children or to others who do not have the option of being vaccinated because of health issues.
If these people cannot eat in an outdoor setting, they are not likely to patronize the restaurant at all. Restaurant owners are hanging onto their businesses by their fingernails right now, and they need all the help the city can offer.
Other business owners might be seeing a drop-off in business now, not because of a scarcity of parking but because of worries about indoor shopping by the same people avoiding restaurants. The city should be doing everything it can for them, too. But opening up 38 more parking spaces on Market Street is unlikely to have a dramatic effect on the fortunes of the retail stores.