City councilors voted April 6 to approve a more permanent version of the Curbside Belfast program that helped 13 businesses stay afloat during Coronavirus shutdowns last year.

It is very similar to the program implemented last year, City Manager Erin Herbig said. Businesses will be able to use the equivalent of about two public parking spaces in front of their businesses for additional space for customers from May 1 to Oct. 31. The program is available to downtown and waterfront properties.

The program requires businesses to apply for a one-time use permit and an annual curbside license, which has a $50 fee applied to both applications, and an annual curbside lease agreement with rent based on the median downtown commercial space rental per square foot, which comes out to $1,512 per year. The fees are waived this year, but will be applied in 2022.

Planning and Codes Director Bub Fournier said each permit will take up about the equivalent of two downtown parking spaces, which resulted in between 30 and 40 spaces used last year.

Councilor Mike Hurley wanted to look more closely at the model used to calculate the rent for the lease agreement because he thought it was unfair to use inside square footage to calculate rent on an outdoor space. He has owned an outdoor food service business in Maine and said weather conditions can be “brutal.”

The program requires businesses to build a pallet in the space to make it more handicapped accessible and stable, especially for storefronts situated on hills. The requirement would go into effect in 2022. Hurley was concerned that the cost to build a pallet would be too high for some businesses to participate in the program.

Herbig said many restaurants she spoke with intend to build pallets this year, but she and Fournier decided not to require it until next year because lumber and contractor costs are still very high. She thinks it is a cost businesses can afford next year.

There is space available with Public Works to store the platforms; Herbig said storage space was a concern to some business owners. Public Works can also help to put them in place when the program begins every year.

Councilor Brenda Bonneville said she supports the implementation of some cosmetic requirements to make the spaces more pleasing to look at and to match the downtown aesthetic. The program states that lighting, plantings and artwork are allowed as decorations, but the construction in the space should be durable, nonreflective and aesthetically pleasing.

Councilor Paul Dean said the program was important last year in keeping businesses going and brought people to the city. “It brought people here, and this is good stuff for Belfast,” he said.

Councilor Mary Mortier said she was impressed by how city staff called in community stakeholders to weigh in on this program before implementing it and took extra steps like restaurant tours to invite the public into the program development. “It brought a liveliness to our downtown; COVID or not, it just brought interaction to our downtown that people are looking for,” she said.

This city is accepting applications for the program now, which starts May 1.