Bethesda reopening might include street closures for restaurant seating
County Transportation Department working with Bethesda Urban Partnership
When restaurants reopen for sit-down service in Montgomery County, some streets in Bethesda Row and Woodmont Triangle might close temporarily to add outdoor seating.
A spokeswoman for the Bethesda Urban Partnership (BUP) told Bethesda Beat last week that the plan close streets and add seating is being considered.
Restaurants have been closed for sit-down service in Maryland since March 16 due to the coronavirus health crisis, under Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order, which allows takeout and delivery to continue.
The Bethesda Urban Partnership (BUP), a nonprofit group that manages the downtown area, is talking with county officials to close off select streets to add tables and chairs for restaurant-goers, spokeswoman Stephanie Coppula said Thursday. The plan has not been finalized, she said.
“We’re looking at streets in Woodmont Triangle and streets over in the south section of Bethesda Row. We have a very high concentration of restaurants in those areas,” she said.
Hogan allowed some businesses to reopen on May 15, provided that they continue to follow social distancing guidelines. Sit-down restaurants are not open as part of the initial phase of reopening.
Individual jurisdictions that have been hit harder by COVID-19, including Montgomery County, have opted to wait until conditions improve before reopening.
Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, said last week that county could be ready to start reopening in “a week or so” if benchmarks are met, such as a consistent decline in the number of daily COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
When restaurants do open in Montgomery County, it’s likely that they will only open at partial capacity for indoor seating to comply with social distancing guidelines, Coppula said. Outdoor seating would help restaurants serve more people without making the indoor space too crowded, she said.
Coppula said the “open seating” concept would mean customers from many different restaurants could use the tables and chairs in a given area. It wouldn’t be restricted to one particular restaurant, she said.
Coppula said the next step is to “wait for direction” from county officials on when businesses can reopen.
Neil Greenberger, a county spokesman, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat that the proposal is “in the early stages.”
“The Montgomery County Department of Transportation is coordinating with the Bethesda Urban Partnership for possible use of county street space to support businesses reopening in Bethesda once directives are given to gradually reopen the County,” Greenberger wrote. “MCDOT is initiating similar conversations with other business districts that face county streets like Germantown, North Bethesda, Silver Spring and Wheaton.”
County Council Member Andrew Friedson, whose district includes Bethesda, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Tuesday that he has been discussing the idea of closing down streets with BUP and the Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce. People must “adjust to the new normal” once the immediate public health emergency is over, he wrote.
“Customers and employees must be kept safe as local businesses are allowed to reopen. There will also be lingering reluctance from customers to patronize restaurants due to ongoing health concerns,” he wrote. “This is one way we can demonstrate to businesses that we recognize the new normal, help residents and employees stay safe, and help businesses keep the lights on.”
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org