City RUSHES Outdoor Restaurant & Retail Sales; Six Streets Closed From June 1 to November 1

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A Proposed Map Showing Streets That Would be Closed for the Summer Under the City’s Proposal.

The city of Portland is fast tracking a proposal that would allow restaurants and retail businesses to expand onto outdoor public and private property –  not typically permitted in six downtown streets to be temporarily closed.  They also include sidewalks, parking lots, plazas and parklets.  The proposal would run from June 1, 2020 until November 1, 2020 and is consistent with Governor Janet T. Mills reopening order for southern Maine.

One general manager of a restaurant in the Old Port said this afternoon that it does not intend to open until mid-June.  That’s because the owner does not believe that there would be enough patrons earlier in the month to open up.  “People are still very wary of going out into public places,” she said.

Given its track record, it would be shocking if the city’s permitting office could be up to speed anyway for changes starting June 1st.

The following six streets would be closed for the summer season under this proposal:

Cotton Street (from Spring Street to Fore Street), Dana Street, Exchange Street from Fore Street to Federal Street, Milk Street (from Exchange Street to Market Street and Silver Street to Pearl Street), Middle Street (from Franklin Street to India Street), and Wharf Street.  The closed streets will remain closed 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the June 1 to November 1 time frame.

The proposal will be considered at the city’s Economic Development Committee meeting on Thursday, May 14 at 4:00 pm. It’s then expected to be forwarded to the full Council for its Monday, May 18th meeting.

The city’s permitting and inspections department will work with businesses to allow those with valid outdoor dining permits to expand their operations, assist other businesses with obtaining new or renewed outdoor dining permits for these new spaces or work on parklet proposals.

Fees associated with the expansion of existing outdoor dining premises will be waiver and fees associated with parklet applications will be significantly reduced.  New outdoor dining permit fees or renewals as well as fees for sidewalks sale permits will remain the same, but fees will not e due until 60 days after the permit has been issued.  All permit charges will be valid from June 1 to November 1, 2020.  Permitting processes have been simplified and streamlined (that’s what the city always says) to allow businesses to take advantage of these policy changes as soon as possible.  Really?

If approved by the Council, businesses who take advantage of these temporary (summer long) changes must follow all items required as part of the State’s applicable COVID-19 Prevention Checklist while doing so in order to safeguard public health and continue to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 according to the press release issued by the city this afternoon.

According to a Morning Consult survey, 51% of voters say the country as a whole is moving too fast to reopen businesses and public spaces.  For the first time, this Washington, D.C. based market research company, reports that a slim majority of GOP voters say they are more concerned about pandemic’s economic impact than public health impact.  Finally, according to the same survey, an equal share of voters (37%) say their own state is moving too quickly or at about the right speed to reopen the economy.

Note:  This proposal is a major change to the Old Port area of Portland.   It deserves more time and feedback from the public because of its widespread ramifications for many people.  There may be some retailers who don’t support the closing of six streets.  Additionally, maybe they don’t want to sell their clothing, books or nick nacks on the sidewalks of the Old Port.  Even though it’s introduced under the guise of assisting the restaurant business, the fact that it is being rushed through with such short notice is really questionable.  Why not change the date to July 1st and give others time to assess the situation and what it could mean for their businesses.  Perhaps it’s  a precursor to a permanent closure of Old Port streets if the city can get away with it and sneak it through on such short notice.   The city of Portland subscribes to the policy of making it a walkable city.  Is this just the start of the implementation of that policy?

There is a significant population of senior citizens in the Portland area.  What do they think?

Shouldn’t all the stakeholders have more time to weigh in?