PORT TOWNSEND — After vehement testimony from local business people and other residents opposed to “streateries” — outdoor dining spaces that occupy parking stalls — the Port Townsend City Council has voted unanimously to consider a change in plans.
The council voted Monday night on two items: to extend the temporary-permit policy through 2022 and to consider having them only Uptown and not downtown.
Public commentary has been plentiful on the issue of streateries, which were first a temporary measure to allow more outdoor dining amid the pandemic. Several cafes were set up in the roadway in 2020 both downtown and Uptown; then the City Council extended and re-extended the permits. The most recent renewal of the streateries policy was to expire next Monday, right after Mothers Day weekend. So beginning in March, the council began to look at changing the municipal code to allow long-term streateries: four downtown and two Uptown.
Outcry rose from some downtown business owners and from other local residents. Streateries such as those belonging to the Old Whiskey Mill, Alchemy Bistro and Tommyknockers take up valuable downtown parking spots for shoppers; the structures themselves are unsightly; they were only supposed to be temporary, opponents said repeatedly.
The council, for its part, has had long discussions for the past several weeks on downtown’s parking shortage and whether the streateries exacerbate it.
Yet the Uptown Pub & Grill-Seal Dog Coffee streatery on Lawrence Street, which takes up parking spaces near a few other businesses, went relatively undiscussed.
On Monday night, council member Ben Thomas suggested tabling the whole thing until the city creates a comprehensive parking management plan. Several local residents have asked the council to do this.
Council member Libby Wennstrom, a proponent of downtown streateries, noted that Port Townsend is home to many elderly people who don’t feel safe dining inside; hence the need for the seating on the street.
“I get that people disagree with me,” she said, but tabling the long-term streateries proposal now is just kicking it down the road again.
A parking study was done nearly 20 years ago, but little ever came of it, she has said.
Then council member Aislinn Diamanti spoke.
“We’re talking about eight [parking] spots downtown … I think it would be a huge mistake to not go forward with this and at least allow the Uptown [streateries],” she said. “A very simple solution” would be to permit only those.
The downtown streateries could be put on hold, Diamanti said, pending completion of a parking management plan.
The council’s unanimous vote followed, so the streateries proposal will come back for yet another discussion.
The next council meeting is this coming Monday, but since it’s a workshop, action will probably wait until the 6:30 p.m. May 16 business meeting, or later. Information about meetings can be found at cityofPT.us.
That left the question of what to do with the existing streateries. On Monday’s council meeting agenda, Public Works Director Steve King provided the council with a proposal to extend the policy until Dec. 31.
More than once, however, city residents have commented on the streateries’ unsightliness and on their safety — or lack thereof.
“I get why we need this extension,” Wennstrom said, but “they’re not sturdy … they don’t offer good weather protection,” so extending the policy extends the problems too.
“I look at this personally as the last extension,” Diamanti added.
Kris Nelson, owner of the Old Whiskey Mill, spoke to the council twice on Monday: first about how her streatery is popular nearly year-round and can provide shelter to the wider public after hours, and second about her intent to improve its looks.
“I assure you it will be improved” if permitted until the end of the year, Nelson said.
The restaurateur added that she “never, ever” thought Port Townsend would arrive at this point of having streateries for two years now, going on three.
“I will personally be making improvements so it’s not an eyesore,” she said.
“I am sorry for it not looking so amazing.”
Jefferson County Senior Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or firstname.lastname@example.org.