BELFAST — The city will implement phase four of the Curbside Belfast program starting Nov. 1 after councilors voted to approve it Oct. 19.

The program was developed in the spring of 2020 to help local businesses accommodate more customers as COVID-19 mandates reduced the number of people they could serve indoors.

The permit allows sidewalk and public parking spaces in front of shops or restaurants to be used for display or to provide more room for dining. This phase of the program has additional provisions that require business owners to clear the space of snow. At least one business is interested in reapplying for a permit to use space this winter, City Manager Erin Herbig said.

Councilor Mike Hurley said he would also like to see businesses dress up the spaces better, instead of leaving them looking like a “cement block bunker.” He added, “When you want to take away public parking places, you have a responsibility to the public more than just to be open.”

Councilor Neal Harkness said he understands that the pandemic has put constraints on businesses, but it is not unusual for the city to require standards for the appearance of buildings downtown.

All councilors were in favor of the phase four program, but felt the city should charge businesses rent when the next phase is implemented in the spring.

Councilor Mary Mortier said despite complications the restaurant industry has faced, it has been a busy summer and there is room to discuss a rent stipulation in the program to be rolled out in the spring. “I think it’s a tremendous addition to our community,” she said. “I think the fact that we’re being open, as we were last winter, to continuing through the winter for those businesses that are able to make that work for them is a plus that other communities are not providing, and I think it’s an all-around win-win.

“But I also think that for next summer we need to really step up to the plate and get a little more serious about this.”