In conjunction with Governor Mills’ Restarting Maine’s Economy plan, which outlines the gradual stages of reopening, the City of Portland has put together a proposed plan that includes temporary street closures and permitting changes to assist the small business community as they look to safely and responsibly reopen restaurants, retail establishments, and other commercial activity, scheduled for June 1, 2020 as allowed by the State. City staff will present the proposed plan to the Council’s Economic Development Committee on Thursday, May 14 at 4:00 PM. The proposal is then expected to head to the full Council at its Monday, May 18 meeting.
The proposal includes allowing restaurants and retail businesses to expand onto public and private property for restaurant seating or retail merchandise not typically permitted for business activity such as six downtown streets that will be temporarily closed, sidewalks, parking lots, plazas, and parklets. In all cases, the configurations must meet 6-foot separation requirements. The City’s Permitting & 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.
“We worked quickly across several departments to put together a proposal that would give our small business community a number of useful tools to assist them as they seek to reopen or expand their operations in accordance with the State’s guidance for a June 1 opening,” said City Manager Jon Jennings. “This a pilot program with a number of temporary policy changes that, if approved, we hope will help businesses as they seek to begin safely serving patrons again.”
“We are all aware of the enormous pressure our small businesses are under,” said City Councilor Justin Costa (D-4), Chair of the Economic Development Committee. “We hope that this plan will be of some help to our businesses that are seeking to do the right thing and serve customers in the safest way possible.”
“I’m grateful for staff’s quick work to identify opportunities for Portland restaurants as they navigate reopening with the required physical distancing,” said Mayor Kate Snyder.
Fees associated with the expansion of existing outdoor dining premises will be waived, and fees associated with parklet applications will be significantly reduced. New outdoor dining permit fees or renewals as well as fees for sidewalk sale permits will remain the same, but fees will not be due until 60 days after the permit has been issued. All permit changes will be valid from June 1, 2020 to November 1, 2020. Permitting processes have been simplified and streamlined to allow businesses to take advantage of these policy changes as quickly as possible.
If approved by the Council, businesses who take advantage of these temporary changes must follow all items required as part of the State’s applicable COVID19 Prevention Checklist while doing so in order to safeguard public health and continue to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
By expanding outdoor capacity, the City hopes to support businesses in their efforts to re-open responsibly. These closures are not intended to create public gathering or social space. Businesses are required (according to the State’s checklist) to have visible signage reminding visitors of proper social distancing and other COVID-19 recommendations. The following proposed plan constitutes a pilot program that will be reassessed as needed, based on data collection, observation, and public feedback.
The proposal includes the temporary closure of the following downtown streets:
Cotton Street (from Spring Street to Fore 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)
This will allow restaurants and retailers to expand into or establish themselves in outdoor areas on these streets so they can increase the number of customers served safely while meeting social distancing requirements. ADA compliance must be maintained. The use of outdoor space on streets that are closed is allowed until 10:00 PM. Street closures will remain in place 24-hours a day, seven-days a week. Through-traffic and parking will not be permitted at any time during these hours. Temporary access will be permitted only for delivery vehicles and residents.
Food trucks may continue to operate in their designated locations, in accordance with existing rules and regulations. Mobile seafood vendors may park and sell products out of parking spaces typically designated for food trucks. Seafood vendors must abide by food truck rules and regulations.