City council allows dining, retail in downtown plazas until October 1

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On June 9, Blaine city manager Michael Jones issued an emergency order allowing businesses to use plaza space, with a special permit. Subsequently, Blaine City Council approved the order at its June 22 regular meeting.

The order waives code limits on use of the H Street and G Street plazas in downtown Blaine, allowing restaurants and retail businesses to apply for a park special-use permit to set up dining or retail space. In a memo to city council, Jones said the park special-use permit “is fast and still allows some review and oversight.”

Drayton Harbor Oyster Company is currently using part of the H Street plaza for dining. 

Under the order, plaza use isn’t restricted to businesses next to the plazas. “A restaurant across the street could apply to do it and run food across, or theoretically put a barbecue out there and serve a specific menu,” Jones said. Retail business can also apply to use plaza space.

Under the emergency order, the waiver would have been in place until December 31, but council members agreed that the term was too long and voted for it to expire on October 1. It could be extended at that point.

In addition to the waiver, the city is pursuing other ideas to give businesses, and restaurants in particular, more outdoor space to help them operate with Covid-19 concerns and restrictions. 

The city is exploring using street space or parking strips as outdoor dining space. So far, restaurant owners and managers have not expressed much interest in that, Jones said in a memo about the emergency order. 

City council members expressed a desire to find ways to give businesses more outdoor space as soon as possible.

“The important thing is we have to have participation from the restaurants,” Jones said. “It doesn’t do us any good to close Peace Portal and not have the restaurants use it.” 

He added that closing Peace Portal Drive to traffic could have some adverse impacts for retailers, and that the city would have to find a balance if it did pursue closing Peace Portal Drive for outdoor dining.

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