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Portland Council Committee Endorses Plan To Close Streets To Help Businesses

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Exchange Street in Portland on a summer day. Exchange Street is one of the streets that would be closed to traffic under a proposal before the City Council.

The Portland City Council Monday will consider policy changes aimed at helping restaurants open safely to dine-in customers after a key committee gave unanimous support to the proposal.  The Council's Economic Development Committee voted 4-0 Thursday night to support a set of changes that would close some streets and waive certain fees. That would allow restaurants and small businesses in some areas to expand their seating footprint outdoors to provide for more social distancing.

Council member Justin Costa says the city is trying to balance residents' economic and health needs. "It's going to be on all of us to practice public health standards, to abide by physical distancing requirements, and we're all just going to have to continue to monitor the disease and what happens with the spread of COVID."

Costa, who sits on the Economic Development Committee, says people shouldn't expect the changes to fully solve all businesses economic woes.

"The hope and expectation is that it will help some of them," he says. "This is - I think, really should be seen as - a pilot program.  It’s something that we're likely to start but will revisit on a frequent basis and may need to tweak."

He says the policy changes are not a call for restaurants to reopen but another measure of support for owners who wish to do so.

The full City Council will hear the matter Monday. If approved, the policy would be in effect June 1 through November.