PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Council has extended a temporary permitting program that has allowed downtown and uptown businesses to operate on sidewalks and in parking spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The council voted unanimously Monday to continue the “COVID-19 recovery special event” program, which began June 1 and was due to expire Oct. 31. That program waives the usual $250 application fee for temporary permits that allow businesses to operate in otherwise public spaces.
Since its inception, five streateries — or temporary outdoor dining areas — have been installed, with one uptown and four downtown.
According to the resolution, the program will be in place until Jefferson County enters Phase 4 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start reopening plan or until restaurant and retailer occupancy limits reach 75 percent or greater, whichever comes later.
Put more simply, that means both standards must be met before the program would expire.
“We did that because the criteria for these phases has been changing,” said Public Works Director Steve King, who said even he had to read the language a few times to make sense of it.
“Let’s say Phase 4 was all of a sudden limited to 60 percent occupancy,” he said. “In that case, this [program] would remain in place. We wanted to do that rather than say Jan. 30 or something because we don’t know where things will stand as we go along.”
The program’s extension allows the five restaurants that have taken advantage of the program so far to continue doing so. However, they now must contend with the rain, wind and colder temperatures that come with the fall and winter seasons.
Two of Kris Nelson’s downtown restaurants — The Old Whiskey Mill and Alchemy Bistro and Wine Bar — rely on streateries that occupy parking spaces in front of their buildings.
She said she plans to submit a building permit application this week so she can erect a two-sided tent with propane space-heaters inside at Alchemy.
“I’ve looked at literally every tent known to man,” she said. “The hard part is, I don’t know if it will survive our winds, and I don’t know if it will be attractive enough that people will actually want to sit there.”
Nelson said she’s still trying to figure out what will work for the outdoor space at The Old Whiskey Mill, which is about a foot too narrow for the tents she’s seen and faces stronger gusts of wind along Water Street.
“It’s a little bit tricky,” she said of finding tents that are both structurally sound and inviting to customers. “I want to find something that is prettier than the all-weather carport, and I don’t want these tents to be an eyesore on our charming little town.”
In an online survey conducted in early October by the Port Townsend Main Street Program, 84 percent of respondents said streateries are a “good alternative seating option during COVID-19.”
More than 65 percent of the survey’s 217 respondents said they would support streateries through the winter months while COVID-19 restrictions remain in place.
In his presentation to the City Council, King said survey respondents voiced concerns about the program becoming permanent and the loss of limited parking spaces that downtown retailers depend upon.
While the program has created 75 tabletop seats through streateries and parklets, it has also consumed 17 parking spaces.
King said any future consideration of a more permanent program would require a robust public process to develop a parking-management strategy that serves everyone.
“I think it’s well understood by the city that any permanent program would need to look very closely at the parking issues that would come with that,” he said.
City Manager John Mauro will provide an update to the City Council in January on how the program is going, according to the resolution adopted Monday.
Jefferson County senior reporter Nicholas Johnson can be reached by phone at 360-417-3509 or by email at [email protected].