Howard County Council members on Wednesday morning voted unanimously to approve a bill to extend temporary outdoor dining at bars and restaurants that had expanded service until Nov. 15.
Originally approved in June 2020 to help businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic while indoor dining capacity limits were in place, the temporary-use permit for outdoor dining was scheduled to expire on Aug. 15, the same time as the grace period on the state’s emergency order.
On July 21, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced the emergency legislation to extend that permit in an effort to help restaurants continue to rebound and thrive.
During a public hearing before Wednesday’s legislative session, council member David Yungmann said the bill was more than “something as simple putting tables outside” and required the cooperation of numerous county agencies.
“This expanded outdoor seating has been an integral tool that allowed restaurants to adapt to the many changes that happened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Shaina Hernandez, senior adviser for policy for Ball’s administration, said during the hearing.
The bill applies only to restaurants and bars that had previously gone through the application process for temporary outdoor dining and will take effect immediately.
“It provides us with quite a bit more dining capacity and options,” Nicholas Thompson, senior operations manager of Manor Hill Tavern in Ellicott City, said this week of the restaurant’s expanded outside dining area. “It also gives diners a comfortable outside option.”
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While the restaurant had previously offered a few tables outside by the bar, during the pandemic it was allowed to open an outdoor area across the street from the restaurant. Situated along the river, it has been quite popular with runners, mountain bikers, dog owners and those preferring to be outside, Thompson said.
“It gives us a lot more flexibility,” Thompson said.
Mark Hemmis, owner of Phoenix Upper Main in Ellicott City, was allowed to create two outdoor dining areas during the pandemic. While he plans to close the outdoor dining space in the parking lot when the temporary-use permit is up, he is working to get approval to continue letting customers dine in the alley next to the building.
“It absolutely helped,” Hemmis said of the areas’ importance during the pandemic.
The announcement comes after the Howard County Board of License Commissioners voted unanimously earlier this month to allow bars, restaurants and taverns in the county to continue selling to-go alcoholic beverages.
That policy allows alcoholic beverages, including cocktails and mixed drinks, to be available for carryout or delivery from licensed establishments through at least June 30, 2023.
Ball has also previously said his administration is working on a process to allow some restaurants to make their outdoor seating permanent.