Talbot leaders ask Hogan to allow outdoor restaurant seating

Talbot County Council President Corey Pack presides over a Thursday, May 21, meeting during which the council voted to send a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan requesting that the state allow outdoor restaurant seating during Stage One of Maryland’s coronavirus recovery plan.

EASTON — In an effort to help restaurants safely reopen after being shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Talbot County Council penned a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan requesting that he permit outdoor dining during Stage One of Maryland’s Roadmap to Recovery.

Council President Corey Pack said during a meeting Thursday, May 21, he thought the request was “reasonable” because permitting outdoor seating would allow restaurants to “safely have patrons come in” as the weather gets warmer.

Pack said the request was not to allow restaurants to serve customers at outside tables, but to give diners somewhere to sit while they eat their carryout food instead of forcing patrons to leave the premises with their items.

The council president said patrons having to find other places to dine after picking up their food has caused an increase in traffic to local public parks, which creates more trash in bins that might be too small to accommodate the garbage abundance.

In the letter to Hogan, Pack wrote that the influx of park-goers was “creating more of a burden on municipal parks staff as they attempt to manage the unanticipated flow of diners in their parks.”

Pack also nodded to the governor’s previous a small business owner status, writing, “With your background as a former business owner, I don’t need to tell you what our local business owners are feeling these days: the worry, the doubt and feeling of uncertainty is numbing.”

Local restaurateurs, Pack said, have expressed a “deep concern about the survival of their business.”

While they’re “grateful that they have been allowed to offer carry-out and curb-side pickup service to their patrons ... they are still struggling to keep their doors open,” he wrote to Hogan.

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot struck a similar chord concerning the reopening of outdoor restaurant seating during a Wednesday, May 20, live streamed Board of Public Works meeting.

Franchot said to Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford and Treasurer Nancy Kopp on a Zoom video call that the state should “move as quickly as possible” to allow restaurants to use their patios and sidewalks to host customers.

“I say that not in an effort to be cavalier about the health issue,” Franchot said. “I’m just saying the (restaurant) sector really needs a little bit of attention.”

The comptroller said the state “cannot keep these restaurants completely throttled because none of them are going to survive.”

“They’re just going to be strangled to death,” he said, adding if Maryland doesn’t ease restrictions on restaurants, “we’re just going to have a wasteland.”

“Let’s keep the indoor prohibition, and let’s experiment very carefully with allowing some patio (seating) or on the sidewalk in front,” Franchot said.

Rutherford, who has been presiding over the BPW meetings since Hogan’s focus shifted to the pandemic, responded to Franchot that Hogan and his appointed experts who are helping the state tackle the COVID-19 crisis have been debating how to safely ease restrictions on restaurants.

“The discussions have been centered a lot around outdoor dining and what we can do there to help,” the lieutenant governor said. “I think that would be really nice to do.”

“The restaurant industry, the service industry in general, is being really hammered by this at no fault of their own,” Rutherford said.

It’s unclear when or if restaurants will be allowed to seat customers outside, but it appears more counties have begun pushing for the restrictions to be lifted as the state continues its recovery.

Rutherford hinted during the meeting that a regional resuming of outdoor restaurant operations based on data of the virus’s spread could be on the table.

He named the Eastern Shore and western Maryland as areas that could see such restrictions lifted sooner than more populous areas, such as Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

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