Outdoor dining parklets have the blessing of the Baltimore’s Board of Estimates.
Baltimore’s new curbside commercial rules cleared a final administrative hurdle Wednesday with a vote by Board of Estimates members who unanimously backed the policy, which will make temporary parklets that sprung up during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic into a permanent fixture along city streets.
The new rules and fee structure for parklets, which take effect July 1, will put Baltimore ahead of the curve compared with other American cities, said Liam Davis, the Baltimore City Department of Transportation’s legislative affairs manager. New York City unveiled its own proposed licensing structure for outdoor dining last month, while Philadelphia released a stricter set of permitting rules last year, leading to a drop in the number of the city’s “streeteries.”
“Baltimore City is a leader, and we’re in a great position compared to other cities,” Davis told board members.
The new curbside policy was unveiled this spring, following a public feedback period that drew more than 2,000 comments. Under city code, the fees needed to be wrapped into Baltimore’s minor privilege program before they could be officially adopted.
A vote on the policy was delayed several times as the law department reviewed a proposed fee structure for the parklets, which will be based on a two-level system tied to the city’s median household income. In affluent areas, such as Fells Point and Federal Hill, restaurants will pay $10 per square foot for their curbside dining setup. Restaurants located in communities where incomes are below the city’s median will pay $5 a square foot.
That focus on equity could be a model for other city agencies as they consider their own policies moving forward, said Comptroller Bill Henry.
“I do appreciate the fact that (DOT has) started a process that I believe many city agencies are going to have to go through in the near future, which is to look at all aspects of their program through an equity frame,” Henry said.
The curbside commercial fees encountered some opposition at Wednesday’s hearing from Bikemore, a group that advocates for expanding bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in Baltimore. While the organization supports dining parklets, it took issue with the fees, which are costlier than those that restaurants pay for a valet parking lane for vehicles.
“I think, particularly in the pursuit of eliminating economic access disparities, this difference in how we are charging for use of space of people dining in the street versus parking cars — that is an economic disparity,” said Jed Weeks, Bikemore’s interim executive director.
Davis said DOT feels the proposed curbside commercial rates are “fair.”
But, he added, “we’ve also committed to looking into the city’s valet rates and doing research, seeing where there may be areas for improvement.”
Applications for curbside parklets are available on DOT’s website.