In its first in-person meeting since January, the Annapolis City Council on Monday night extended outdoor dining permissions for restaurants until mid-June.
The resolution, sponsored by Democratic Ward 8 Alderman Ross Arnett, directs City Manager David Jarrell to initiate a pilot program to study the impacts of outdoor dining in the recovery zone areas on Main Street, Maryland Avenue, Eastport and elsewhere during that time.
The outdoor dining program was initially meant to last a year, but an amendment introduced by Ward 1 Democrat Elly Tierney to limit the period to 60 days was approved by a vote of 5-4.
Following the meeting, Arnett said he may consider introducing a motion to reconsider at the council’s next meeting in two weeks. Two months is not enough time to conduct the study and won’t be worth it for restaurants to set up outdoor dining infrastructure such as tents, he said.
The passage of R-22-22 comes as the city’s coronavirus state of emergency ended Monday and with it, three months of council meetings that were held virtually.
During deliberations of the resolution, the council approved an amendment sponsored by Mayor Gavin Buckley and Tierney that will allow the Department of Planning and Zoning director to establish rules and regulations related to restaurant owners paying a fee in exchange for using parking lots of dining.
A parking study is necessary to reveal important information as city’s parking landscape changes with the demolition of Hillman Garage later this month, Arnett said.
Permanent outdoor dining legislation is expected to be drafted and voted on in the coming months.
Buckley declared an emergency order in December as Anne Arundel County was experiencing a surge in positive COVID-19 cases. The council extended it by 90 days in mid-January, which allowed restaurants to continue offering outdoor dining in parking lots and spaces.
Jarrell will prepare and deliver a report to the council about the effects of the pilot program, according to the bill. Outdoor dining areas would still be subject to city permitting requirements.
Residents turned out to testify on the outdoor dining bill with several more submitting online testimony. Some questioned why the resolution, which was introduced two weeks ago, wasn’t given a public hearing or discussed by council standing committees. Resolutions typically don’t receive a public hearing or committee deliberation. This bill needed to be implemented prior to the emergency order expiring or outdoor dining would go away, Arnett said.
Eastport residents have complained that outdoor dining has caused noise and traffic issues, said Jim Conlon, of Chesapeake Avenue. Conlon urged the council to amend the resolution to limit restaurants to their permitted occupancy and impose buffers on where they can operate.
The Eastport Civic Association supports the resolution, said ECA President Bill Reichhardt, particularly because it delays the implementation of another parking-related bill, O-9-22, until the pilot study is complete.
The ordinance, sponsored by Ward 5 Democrat Brooks Schandelmeier, would eliminate off-street parking requirements for restaurants, bars and other establishments.
State of the City
To start the meeting, Buckley delivered his first in-person State of the City since 2019.
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Buckley spoke for more than 30 minutes on the accomplishments of his administration over the past year, noting victories and initiatives undertaken by each city department. He also delivered his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Buckley held a moment of silence for 104 city residents who died from COVID-19 and the more than 10,000 who were infected by the coronavirus since the pandemic began in March 2020.
“This city has fared better than others,” he said. “We worked proactively to ensure that our businesses could be successful and our residents supported that effort in a way that has helped us thrive. Our residents deserve thanks too.”
In a bit of custodial business, the council voted to reconsider the appointment of Michael La Place for planning and zoning director because there was an error in the vote two weeks ago. La Place’s appointment was unanimously approved. He will be sworn in May 9.
In another personnel move, Buckley announced that Chief of Staff Susy Smith is retiring after serving for four years. Smith will be replaced by Cate Pettit, a senior communication and business strategist with extensive experience in government, community and politics, according to a city news release.
Pettit volunteered on Buckley’s first mayoral campaign and has remained as a volunteer adviser, the city said.
Her start date is next Monday. She will earn $106,000 annually.