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Annapolis

Annapolis City Council extends outdoor dining through October

Restaurants will be allowed to continue offering outdoor dining in designated parking lots and spaces through the end of October.

The Annapolis City Council reconsidered resolution R-22-22 Monday night and passed it unanimously, clearing the way for restaurants to continue serving guests in the areas known as recovery zones in the Historic District, Eastport and elsewhere.

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The legislation requires city staff to conduct a pilot study over the next six months to determine the impact of the outdoor dining program on residents and nearby communities. An initial version of the bill was passed April 11, but the permit would have expired in June during peak outdoor dining season.

During the extended period, an “enormous amount of legislative effort” will go toward overhauling the city’s outdoor dining code, said Alderman Ross Arnett, a Democrat from Ward 8, who sponsored the resolution.

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“We need to be careful ... that we’re not doing things that are going to have unintended consequences,” Arnett said.

Monica Jones, a Fifth Street resident, was among a group of residents who testified against the resolution.

Jones has made “numerous complaints” to city staff, her alderman and others about the noise caused by outdoor diners at a restaurant near her home in Eastport.

“The noise is deafening, and it is affecting every aspect of my life,” Jones said. “I can find no peace whatsoever. The city is choosing business and money over its residents. I ask that you not allow this to happen to Eastport.”

The council approved an amendment to the bill that authorizes the city’s director of Planning and Zoning to establish rules and regulations related to outdoor dining, including establishing an application fee of up to $4,228 for applicants who wish to use private parking lots for dining.

The revenue from these applications will go into the city’s parking fund to provide transit alternatives.

“If you’re going to displace parking, you should pay into a parking fund so we can mobilize people to other parking assets,” said Mayor Gavin Buckley, who sponsored the amendment.

Alderman Rob Savidge, a Democrat from Ward 7, supported the extension of outdoor dining, in part, to allow new Planning and Zoning Director Michael LaPlace enough time to start his job and promulgate outdoor dining rules.

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“It’s unfair to him,” Savidge said of La Place, the former head of planning in Princeton, New Jersey, who will be sworn in May 9. “I don’t think it’s going to hurt us to give him more time.”

City resident, Frank Smollen, of Chesapeake Avenue, questioned why the city would need to study outdoor dining over the summer when it has been permitted for more than a year during the pandemic.

Alderman DaJuan Gay, a Ward 6 Democrat, agreed that the city has had time to study the issue, adding that he supported outdoor dining but worried that extending it six months would increase tension between the council, the community and restaurants.

“My fear is at the end of the time period, you’re gonna say, ‘Well, let’s make it permanent,’” Smollen said. “I think that’s what’s on the agenda.”

Alderwoman Elly Tierney, a Ward 1 Democrat, empathized with the frustrations of residents, admitting the city has “exhausted the patience” of those who live near outdoor dining establishments. Tierney introduced an amendment two weeks ago to shorten the study period to two months, but Arnett and other council members agreed it was not enough time.

“I can’t understand why we can’t this done in six weeks,” Tierney said.

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The council also approved another bill related to outdoor dining sponsored by Tierney. The ordinance, O-13-22, adds leased on-street parking spaces, also known as parklets, to the definition of a sidewalk cafe in the City Code.

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Sidewalk cafes are defined in the code as “any area situated on a public sidewalk where food, refreshments, and/or beverages are sold by a restaurant, delicatessen, ice cream shop or coffee shop.” The definition now includes parking spaces on city streets.

During the pandemic, the city established recovery zones that included sidewalk cafes and some parklets on Main Street, Maryland Avenue and other streets at no charge to businesses.

The city recently launched an application process for businesses to begin leasing up to two parking spaces on city-owned streets for outdoor dining. The Office of Economic Development has set daily lease rates at $50 in the Historic District, $30 in the Arts District, $35 for West Street and $19 in Eastport.

These fees are separate from the application fee for private lots and could change over time, Tierney said.

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Waived permitting

The council passed two bills to waive permitting fees for an HVAC renovation project at Bates Middle School and another for the docking fees for ships taking part in the Annapolis UpRigging: Maritime and Heritage Festival next month.

Two other bills received final approval, including one to tighten enforcement on mooring balls that are leased in city waters and another that updates the permitting process for special events that take place on city property.


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