The Portland City Council voted unanimously Monday to continue allowing outdoor dining and retail through November.

The “Outdoor Dining/Retail Festival” designation preceded a council vote to end the local emergency declaration dating back to March 2020 that helped the city contain the spread of coronavirus.

The local emergency declaration would end on July 29, terminating the additional powers granted to the city manager during the pandemic that were used to restrict public gatherings and impose curfews on local businesses early in the pandemic.

Street closures allowing businesses to expand outdoor dining and retail options will continue until November, after councilors voted unanimously to declare an outdoor dining festival. That designation allows restaurants to continue operating on public ways, without any additional fees, until Nov. 1.

In addition to street closures, the festival designation would allow restaurants and retailers to continue using parklets.

City Manager Jon Jennings said the city originally capped parklets at five, but lifted the cap during the pandemic. A city spokesperson said that through April, 26 parklets have been permitted.

“This will give us the authority to continue with what we have been doing,” he said. 

Jennings said staff is currently looking at making some of the temporary changes permanent. Staff is developing a proposal to present to councilors sometime this fall.

“There will be an effort to make some of this work more permanent,” he said. “There will certainly be a lot of public discussion with the economic development and sustainability committees to look at the possibility of (continuing) permitted closures and/or a continuation of the large number of parklets.”

The move also clears the way for a return to in-person meetings at City Hall next month. But the council also unanimously a policy governing remote participation by the public and city councilors under certain circumstances.

The statewide emergency declaration, which ended last month, allowed municipalities to hold remote meetings, using video conferencing services like Zoom, during the pandemic.

At the urging of municipal officials, including those from Portland, the state Legislature voted to amend the state’s open meeting law so municipalities could allow members of the public and elected officials to participate in meetings remotely on an ongoing basis, as long as the municipality adopts a policy outlining the terms.

Gov. Janet Mills ended the statewide state of emergency on June 30, but municipalities were allowed to continue meeting remotely through July.

Portland’s policy would allow, but does not require, members of the public to be allowed to participate remotely in public meetings. Councilors, meanwhile, are expected to attend the meeting in person, unless certain conditions are met. Those conditions include an emergency or urgent issue that requires remote meetings, or if a councilor is ill.

The public will be allowed to participate either by phone or video conference. However, officials may not text, email or use chat functions to participate in a public proceeding.


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