photo by: Rochelle Valverde
Taking into account issues such as aesthetics and parking, the City of Lawrence will seek to develop a long-term version of a program that has enabled downtown businesses to build patios and outdoor dining areas in parking lots during the coronavirus pandemic.
As part of its Tuesday meeting, the City of Lawrence Commission voted 5-0 to allow the development of a long-term âparkletâ program and asked staff to consider items such as fees, design, safety and parking standards in the new regulation. The city waived the permit fees for the temporary program, and Mayor Brad Finkeldei said that while it didn’t make sense for some companies, he expected others to continue using the program in under the new regulations and that it was important to develop them as quickly as possible.
âAs I look up and down Mass. Street, and think about the aesthetics, safety, cost, and usability, I think some of the spaces that exist now are going to survive regardless of the conditions. regulations that we put in place, âsaid Finkeldei. .
As part of this process, the committee also voted unanimously to extend the temporary format of the program for an additional five months, until March 31, so that the permanent version of the program can be developed. Although there was some discussion about whether this was enough time to develop the bylaws, the commission ultimately decided to leave this date in the hopes that the city and the new commission – two new commissioners. will sit on December 7 – would be able to move quickly.
The corner and parallel parking lot in the city center that the companies have converted to an outdoor patio is owned by the city, and Deputy Mayor Courtney Shipley and Commissioner Lisa Larsen have said it will be important to set a fair price for the use of this space. Larsen said she would like the program fees to be based on the actual cost of downtown space.
âThe downtown area is the highest property value we have in Lawrence, and so when we consider moving that space away for a park, I would like it to reflect the value of the property,â Larsen said.
As part of the meeting, the commission also received the results of a municipal poll which indicated that a majority of those who responded supported the idea of ââa long-term program. Among other benefits, respondents said the program gave customers more options amid the pandemic, raised the downtown vibe and was of economic importance to businesses. Respondents also expressed some concerns, including intermittent use of parks due to weather and opening hours, loss of downtown parking, and the aesthetics of patio structures.
Larsen said she was concerned about whether the commission could realistically approve new regulations within the five-month deadline. She also said she would like the commission to consider whether to limit the number of parklets allowed per block and the number of parking spaces a business can use for a parklet. She also asked if the committee should consider issues such as whether there should be only one common dining room per block.
Downtown Lawrence Inc. CEO Sally Zogry said in a letter to the commission that the board supports the continuation of the program, but there are some “complexities to be addressed.” Zogry said the main concerns for DLI members are capping the number of on-street parking spaces per block that can be used as parklets to maintain a mix of parking and parklets; develop a fair system of cost assessment; provision of signage and guidance for nearby parking lots; meet accessibility and fire prevention requirements; create workable and enforceable design guidelines; and provide assurance of a longer term program so that businesses can invest in improvements.
Zogry said the DLI is ready to provide additional feedback and coordination with its members, and that design and architecture firm Gould Evans, who helped develop the parklet concept, may also be able to provide. advices.
âOur board is confident that the overriding concerns can be addressed through reasonable regulation,â Zogry said.