This past week, the Bangor City Council voted on the passage of Order 22-143, "Establishing the City's Requirements for Outdoor Seating in Downtown Parking Spaces and Establishing New Rates for Outdoor Seating in Public Spaces in the Downtown District" along with rescinding the Council Order 19-128.
That order, 19-128, was established in 2021 when the Council came up with the idea of "parklets" (little outdoor seating areas) to help Downtown Businesses that were being impacted by Covid and the restrictions that came along with it. Under that order, the City didn't define the space requirements and charged a fee of $250, for the creation of the outdoor seating areas so that restaurants could stay afloat during the pandemic.
As explained by City Councilors during Monday's meeting, this new order "puts into place new requirements and creates a permanent option for seating parking spaces, including a permanent fee of $500 per parking space used with a maximum of 2 parking spaces per business." Included in the order was the creation of a permit application process wherein all plans for these outdoor seating spots, or parklets, would need to be submitted in advance and reviewed by City Officials.
These permits would be available from May 1st through November 1st. And the new permit fees of $500 per space would be introduced incrementally from 1/3 of the fee to the full fee, over the next 3 years.
Some business owners didn't seem to be phased by the vote. Matt Haskell from Blaze said that while it might be a bit more costly than necessary, it's a price he's willing to pay.
"I don't really have any issues with the one time fee for allowing us to use the public space for our patio. I think the final price is a little high but honestly in the end I'm grateful for the ability to use the space and hope to be able to continue that for quite some time. Hopefully the City will put the funds to good use that will benefit the downtown district for years to come."
But other business owners not only disagree with the changes and think it's premature to make them, but also feel like they were caught off guard by them.
Cory and Nit-Noi Ricker own 2 Feet Brewing on Colombia St. Nit-Noi attended the City Council meeting Monday and expressed her concerns.
"...When COVID hit, 2 Feet Brewing was in dire straits. When the city came up with the Parklets, it saved us because people wanted to eat out but still didn’t want to be inside.
The increase is huge, especially for a small family-run business... we think it will be a huge benefit during the summer but at $1,200 … is a HUGE expense."
The Rickers expressed frustration with the new order, saying they were upset that the City didn't reach out to business owners who utilize the parklets prior to March 16th, when they received notification via email of the "final step in this process" to adjust the costs.
"The email says the changes are to 'creat(e) a more equitable and appropriate charge for the use of public space by businesses.' Unless someone gets a parking ticket, the city makes zero money off the two parking spots in front of 2 Feet Brewing, especially since there is a public parking lot on Columbia Street directly across the street."
The Rickers argue that it's too early for the City to reinstate the increased cost, as Covid is still an unknown, and the cost of everything from food to fuel is on the rise.
"Did you know the price of chicken increased by 33 percent since January, and the price of lobster is now more than double than last year, and don’t get me started on the recent multi-hundred dollar increase in electricity? These increases are only going to continue to rise. We are totally opposed to these proposed changes, especially without justification for such a massive increase."
Also in attendance to speak out against the increased cost was Jimmy Puiia, who has owned the Waverly Tavern for 48 years. He said he's lived in Bangor for decades, paying taxes and running his business.
"Anytime costs go up, it hurts restaurants that are struggling.
Puiia says he knows some people are still paranoid about going inside of businesses, and the outdoor parklets are crucial. He said "The City of Bangor should be more friendly to small businesses," pointing to the agreement the City has with Waterfront Concerts. "
"I want my fellow restaurant owners to do well. It's good for the community."
Officials argued that the reduction in rate down to $250 was because businesses were at a limited capacity, and now that businesses are back up to full capacity, the rate change and increases are necessary, as the parklets are taking up city resources, the cost needs to be more equitable for all.
Following the statements made by Ricker and Puiia, the City Council voted unanimously to reinstate the costs.
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