BETHESDA, Md. - Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation announced this week it will be extending the county streeteries until at least August to continue helping local businesses.
Whether the streeteries are helping neighbors is a different topic that's up for some debate.
In Silver Spring, a small group of residents have been petitioning the county for at least a year to have the Newell Street outdoor eating area removed.
Montgomery County Department of Transportation Director Chris Conklin told FOX 5 on Wednesday the county is pleased to continue offering the alternative dining experience.
"I think people started to appreciate some of the nice elements of being outside for these events and have really come to like these streeteries as a way to do that. So, we’re happy to extend that program through the summer."
Streeteries were a lifeline for many businesses during certain points of the pandemic.
"I know at the beginning of the pandemic when everybody went home and people weren’t able to eat inside, that killed the business for here because this location is 90% dining," said Lauren Leopard, the manager at Fish Taco Restaurant. "Most of our other locations are ‘to-go,"
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 5: Diners eat at socially distanced outdoor tables at Taqueria Habanero on the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo, in Washington D.C., Wednesday, May 5, 2021. As more people are vaccinated, businesses are finding themselves struggl
Fish Taco is on the same street as the Woodmont Ave. Streetery in Bethesda. Leopard said with COVID-19 cases down, people returning to the office, and the weather getting warmer, business at Fish Taco has tripled and quadrupled these past three weeks.
A lot of the customers still have reservations about dining indoors. "We still have a lot of customers who are afraid to eat indoors, so it’s nice to give them that option," Leopard said.
There are also plenty of other businesses along the two Bethesda streeteries benefiting from the temporary open space design.
That isn't exactly the case at the Downtown Silver Spring streetery on Newell St. A Downtown Silver Spring resident, who asked not to be identified, said she's starting to reach her "breaking point."
"We haven’t been able to get answers. We’ve reached out to councilmembers, to the county executive, to the heads of the department of transportation, parks department. We don’t understand why it’s still closed," she said. "I’ve actually spent time out here during the lockdowns. It started to become disruptive in terms of noise at all hours of the day, particularly when the weather’s warm and in the summertime. A lot of people either are retired or they work from home, and they’ll come out here and start drinking and blast music while you’re trying to have a Zoom call in your apartment. And then on the weekends, people would come, and they would grill and smoke right next to the building."
There are different types of streeteries all throughout the county. The Newell St. location was created to help expand the small Acorn Park area at a time when social distancing was required.
In a previous county survey, some neighbors celebrated the new, kid-friendly designs and celebrated access to more open space in an urban area. Others were upset another available open space wasn’t chosen. They had concerns about smoking after dark, public intoxication, and alleged drug activity happening closer to the residential buildings near the Newell St. streetery.
In the winter, FOX 5 saw some residents complain about a tent with a generator that was assembled at the streetery for use during the colder months. At least two workers were also tasked with monitoring the location.
The Montgomery County Transportation Department Director told FOX 5 there is a working group of various agencies reviewing complaints at the Newell St. streetery. One option being discussed is whether moving the tables and other "outdoor furniture" away from the apartment building next to the streetery could help mitigate some of the issues there.
"We ask that our residents be respectful of the neighborhood that they’re in and behave in a way that they would want people using the park to behave if they lived next to it, and we really do encourage people to patronize the businesses that are near these places and help our whole community recover from what’s been a trying couple of years here," Conklin said.
Another added benefit to the streeteries directly supporting Montgomery County’s businesses – FOX 5 was told the county is not charging restaurant owners for the use or maintenance of the outdoor space at the moment. However, that will likely need to be a part of the conversation when it comes time to review the Shared Streets program over the summer.