By Emmett Gartner
As of Nov. 1, the city’s Recovery Zones program that brought restaurant tables full of diners into Annapolis’ roadways and parking spaces are no more. The initiative ended after a 16-month run through the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. Also on Nov. 1, Anne Arundel County Council voted unanimously to extend its outdoor dining program through January 2023.
Mayor Gavin Buckley and the city council decided not to continue the program due to the city no longer being in a State of Emergency due to the pandemic, which had motivated the expansion of the outdoor dining program in the summer of 2020.
Buckley, however, was quick to recognize the public’s fondness for the program. “The momentum on this issue seems to be on the side of it continuing,” said Buckley. “The pandemic opened our eyes to the utility of it, but it turns out that lots of people think it is a cool thing to enjoy a meal out-of-doors.”
One of those proponents is Anthony Clarke, co-owner of the Irish restaurant Galway Bay on Maryland Ave. Although he understands the city’s decision to let the program expire, he certainly witnessed the benefits of expanded outdoor dining over the past year. “I commend the city council and the administration for how hard they worked and how quickly they were able to get the recovery plan into place,” Clarke said.
Even through the winter months, Clarke saw the public’s enjoyment of street dining rise as the outside temperatures dropped. “We’d have people out there wrapped up in blankets and enjoying the street and the view and the atmosphere. It worked fantastically,” Clarke said. “I think that if you happen to get one thing out of COVID that was positive, it was people going out to experience an interaction with the outside atmosphere of light and music, and the slow sunsets and people walking by them.”
Some Annapolis business owners, on the other hand, were looking forward to the program’s end. The sacrifice of parking spaces for outdoor dining tables did not provide equal benefits to all businesses on the same street.
“As much as we enjoy, just like anyone else, outdoor dining, the additional parking that we’re going to get from (the end of the Recovery Zones) will assist us and our business greatly,” said Michael Ernst, owner of Blue Crab Antiques, also on Maryland Ave.
Ernst’s customers are “happy that they have outdoor dining, but parking has always been an issue in downtown Annapolis. With the loss of parking spaces, (the difficulty) has increased.”
Clarke understands that these contradictions must be weighed. “I know parking has been a prime point for some residents and also some businesses, so I think the mayor and the council have expanded it for as long as they can. I don’t feel bad about it (outdoor dining) getting taken away now. I understand the predicament and how they balanced it,” Clarke added. “I think it’s fine.”
So holiday shopping is now a little easier in downtown Annapolis, thanks to parking spaces becoming available (and free at metered spaces, Thanksgiving till New Years) but for those who still want to dine alfresco, options are available throughout the county.