EASTON — Parallel parking spaces on the east side of Washington Street between Federal and Dover streets — in front of Washington Street Pub, Doc’s Downtown Grill and Scossa Restaurant & Lounge — will close for the weekend.
The closure will give the restaurants additional outdoor dining space.
Easton Town Council voted 3-1 to approve the closure at Tuesday’s 2 p.m. workshop meeting. They wanted to give the idea a try before the next council meeting on Monday, July 20.
Discover Easton’s Ross Benincasa presented three ideas his group had developed since the Wednesday, July 8, special meeting when the original Downtown Promenade plan — closing all of Washington Street between Federal and Dover streets — was voted down. The ideas were:
- Closing all of Washington between Federal and Dover, but only on weekends.
- Closing off the parallel parking spaces on the eastbound side of Washington between Federal and Dover (the plan the council chose).
- Closing the northbound lane of Washington between Federal and Dover.
He closed his opening presentation by sharing that the restaurant owners on Washington Street were hoping something could be set up by this weekend. That set the tone for the rest of the meeting.
Council Member Don Abbatiello, who attended the meeting virtually, proposed a hybrid of the first two plans, but landed on the second idea. While receptive to concerns and potential issues, he was in favor of trying something temporarily to see how it works.
For most of the meeting, Easton Town Council President Megan Cook and Council Member Al Silverstein were in respectful disagreement. Cook, who’d mostly remained a neutral moderator during the special meeting last week, showed more aggressive support for taking quick action.
She said the weekend closure allows time for planning, both for the council to talk to the businesses and for Discover Easton and Benincasa to plan what it will look like.
“It’s a step forward,” Cook said. “We have to start somewhere. Unless we start, we’re going to drag this out until September or October, and why are we all here now?”
But Silverstein continued to exercise caution. He didn’t want to rush into anything, fearing that “not crossing t‘s and dotting i‘s” would start the entire cycle over again. He wondered why business owners were unable to comment during this meeting, considering everyone’s goal of helping them and hearing their concerns.
Silverstein mainly wanted to make sure that any plan that is adopted is safe — noting the older demographic of the town population — and is something representative of the community.
“I feel very badly about my first vote,” Silverstein said. “I should’ve asked for more information, and I didn’t feel as though I did my homework good enough. Let’s not put ourselves in a position where we have to come back again.”
Cook and Silverstein openly disagreed with each other at multiple points in the meeting, but the discourse remained respectful and cordial.
While Cook and Silverstein debated both sides of the issue, Council Member Ron Engle stayed mostly quiet, but when he spoke, he said his main desire was to hold a meeting with business owners to make sure whatever plan is decided upon will actually benefit them, a viewpoint all involved parties agreed with.
Abbatiello wasn’t at odds with Silverstein the way Cook was throughout the meeting — likely due to not being physically present — but he was on Cook’s side. He proposed the motion to close the parallel parking for the weekend and reevaluate it at Monday’s meeting.
Capt. Gregory Wright, deputy chief of Easton Police Department, supported closing down the parallel parking spaces for outdoor dining space. He was concern about any further closings, saying there are additional costs and regulations for any live music or other entertainment beyond additional outdoor dining.
Another issue, first raised by Silverstein but addressed by several others, was social distancing concerns. As COVID-19 cases have risen in Talbot County compared to Queen Anne’s County and the state average, events encouraging larger gatherings could exacerbate public health problems.
Silverstein suggested nearby Thompson Park as a location for live music, and using other nearby streets or areas for events to spread out. Benincasa was open to that idea.
Town Engineer Rick Van Emburgh spoke with RK&K, a Baltimore civil engineering company, about conducting a traffic study of Washington Street, something suggested at last week’s special meeting. He said RK&K told him a traffic study would take eight to 10 weeks, and also cost significantly more than expected.
He also spoke with Greg Slater, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, who has helped other towns with similar projects. Slater told Van Emburgh that he and his team would review a drawing or plan of what they wanted to do and provide feedback. Van Emburgh said he’s hoping to send MDOT a drawing soon.
Mayor Robert Willey’s comments helped move the council closer to action. He pointed out public accusations of the council’s failing to do due diligence on the Promenade project. He said the council has done better in that regard by further involving the town planner and town engineer and speaking with more business owners.
But, along with Cook and Abbatiello, he said they needed to do something soon.
“I think we’re tending to over-engineer this thing,” Willey said. “(Let’s) get something going to help out the restaurants, help out the shops, get people downtown, and don’t talk about this for another month.”
Willey’s comment fortified Cook’s and Abbatiello’s opinions on the matter.
The council did not hear public comment at the meeting, saying the comments from the Wednesday, July 8, special meeting and conversations with the public, including many business owners, since then was enough.
There were at least five people, including some business owners, who showed up for the meeting Tuesday. Some murmured during the meeting that they wanted a chance to speak.
Public comment will be open during the regularly scheduled meeting Monday, July 20.
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