2020 | Coronavirus

Planning Board approves alcohol consumption at some parks

Pilot will begin Sept. 24

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Beginning next week, Montgomery County residents can consume alcohol in some local parks, as county officials work to support restaurants struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a 4-1 vote, the county Planning Board on Thursday temporarily suspended the prohibition of alcohol consumption at nine parks, which is branded as an expansion of the county’s “Picnic in the Park” program. Picnic in the Park allows people to order food from nearby restaurants — and eat it at common areas outside — by scanning a QR code with their mobile device.

Planning Board member Tina Patterson voted against adding alcohol consumption to the initiative.

The program’s primary goal is “throwing a lifeline to local restaurants who have been suffering enormous economic losses during this pandemic,” Parks Director Mike Riley said.

The parks that will allow visitors to drink beer, wine and mixed drinks without a permit, from 11 a.m. to dusk, beginning Sept. 24, are:

• Jessup Blair Local Park in Silver Spring

• Acorn Urban Park in Silver Spring

• Germantown Town Center Urban Park

• Norwood Local Park in Chevy Chase

• Olney Manor Recreational Park

• Takoma Urban Park in Takoma Park

• Wall Local Park in North Bethesda

• Wheaton Local Park

• Wheaton Regional Park.

Alcohol consumption will be allowed through May, and only in designated picnic spaces.

Riley said the Parks Department is beginning the pilot program “with eyes wide open” and is willing to modify it if there are problems.

Some community members spoke against the new initiative during Thursday’s Planning Board meeting.

One resident said allowing alcohol consumption in parks “jeopardizes public health” because it could increase excessive alcohol consumption, car crashes and underage drinking. She said alcohol consumption could deter families from going to the park.

Others said it could increase disorderly conduct and litter.

Riley said the parks will be monitored “very closely” and if “things do go poorly … we’ll be immediately prepared to take remedial action.”

Patterson, who voted against authorizing the pilot, said she shared concerns with some community members, and worried that there aren’t adequate restroom facilities in parks to accommodate people who need to use the bathroom while consuming more liquids.

But a representative of Silver Branch Brewing Company in Silver Spring said the initiative will create a pathway for restaurants to get “to the other side” of the pandemic.

Planning Board member Natali Fani-Gonzalaz said she is concerned about Wheaton Regional Park being included in the program because it is a large park, but “for a pilot program, I’m OK with it.”

“I don’t believe that the vast majority of people are going to go to the parks to get drunk,” Fani-Gonzalez said.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com