Last week, during the Baltimore City Council’s FY2023 budget hearings, we learned more about the future of Fell’s Point’s “parklets” program. These outdoor dining spaces were created under the Department of Transportation’s Emergency Outdoor Dining Program, enacted to help hospitality establishments survive COVID.
Set to expire on July 1st, 2022, we’re now learning that restaurants with parklets will automatically have their permits extended through the end of the 2022 calendar year.
This news will come as a huge relief to Fell’s Point restaurants, many of which have invested tens of thousands of dollars building outdoor dining experiences for guests.
Not everyone is excited about outdoor dining in Fell’s Point: with almost no regulations or enforcement, many residents have complained about restaurants encroaching on public space and cheaply tossing together ugly and dangerous solutions, among other nuisances such as noise and rodents.
A new draft policy with parklet regulations and design standards is set to be released within weeks. The new program will likely become part of Minor Privilege permitting, which means restaurant owners will pay an annual fee for the extra space and will be subject to a strict set of rules on how the parklets may look and operate.
If all goes according to plan, a summer release of the plan will give ample time for public comment, with the finalized plan becoming law on January 1, 2023. In turn, restaurants would have time throughout the winter to prepare their outdoor space for 2023’s warm months ahead.
Outdoor dining in Fell’s Point has largely been considered a huge success. Thames Street in particular is among the widest streets in Baltimore, leaving plenty of room for outdoor dining, pedestrians, and vehicles alike. But not all restaurants are on Thames Street in Fell’s Point, not all restaurants have been responsible in pursuing outdoor dining, and this is a city-wide initiative that deeply needs careful consideration.
At the height of COVID, outdoor dining allowed restaurants to safely host guests that could not legally or would not voluntarily eat indoors. With the worst of the pandemic (hopefully) behind us, restaurants are finally trying to gain some traction to stabilize their businesses. For many restaurant owners, the survival of their business may rely on DOT crafting a reasonable, thoughtful plan that balances the needs of restaurants and residents.