Despite the fact that they can’t be used any time soon, momentum is gaining to make the temporary, outdoor dining parklets along Second Street in Belmont Shore into permanent features of the neighborhood’s physical and commercial landscape.
Councilwoman Suzie Price, who represents the area, has scheduled a Dec. 10, “permanent parklet” Zoom meeting open to residents and anyone who wants to discuss the future of the additions. That meeting follows a letter sent by the parking advisory commission of the Belmont Shore Business Assn. to the Long Beach City Council, requesting the Open Streets Initiative that created the parklets be made an ongoing facet of the retail and entertainment district.
Matt Peterson, chair of the advisory commission, wrote the letter calling for the change. Peterson, who is a co-owner of Legends Sports Bar, said the parklets have provided a “surprise revitalization” in the area, even during these, some of the toughest times local businesses have ever faced.
“I wrote that on behalf of our neighborhood because we wanted the city council to know how we feel,” Peterson said. “By far, the vast majority of people are very positive about [parklets], for what they’ve done: more people walking around, stopping at restaurants. It benefits the retail and service industries by creating a really different vibe.”
George Mlouk, owner of Nico’s in Naples, said as much in an Aug. 25 Post story about restauranteurs anxious that the parklets would be phased out due to an Oct. 31 expiration date. “Parklets,” he said, “have been our only lifeline. Everyone loves it because you feel like you’re in a different place.”
Peterson allows that if that difference were to become permanent it would likely bring with it a slew of new regulations, rules and other changes, some of which may be cost-prohibitive for some businesses.
“A conversion to permanent, and what does that look like, will no doubt have new code, ADA compliance, safety measures regarding electricity and making sure traffic doesn’t hit one of them,” he said. “A good deal of restaurants won’t be able to afford it, but, hopefully, we’ll have parklets sprinkled through the neighborhood.”
Jennifer Carey of the city’s Public Works Department said her department is currently evaluating current parklet procedures to “identify ways to streamline the process” if Second Street parklets were to become permanent.
“Conversion of these temporary parklets may require additional permitting, design/construction, surveying the area, etc. on a case by case basis to determine whether permanent installation is feasible,” Carey said in an email.
K.C. Branaghan’s Ryan Hoover, for one, is on record as saying he will do whatever it takes, or costs, to keep his parklet.
“I would be more than happy to pay the permitting and whatever else is required to keep my current situation,” Hoover said. “What I’d like to see is the street speed limit brought down, have these parklets become a permanent part of our dining scene—and I understand there are hefty things to make permanent parklets structurally sound but I am willing to pay for it and build it if it means I can hold onto it.”
If there is a concern with the parklets it seems to be regarding safety. Since they are created on sidewalks or on the street itself, concerns have been that the structures and the patrons utilizing them are vulnerable to passing traffic. Those fears were realized, part, when a driver traveling at high speed lost control of his car and crashed into the parklet in front of Michael’s on Naples late one night in September. Because of the late hour, the driver, apparently racing, did not injure anyone since the parklet was empty.
While acknowledging safety as a concern, Peterson called the racing incident “an anomaly” adding that if parklets were made permanent he’s confident the city would follow with new rules regarding traffic as well as the installation of obstructions such as bollards—those heavy metal construction poles commonly seen protecting plazas and courtyards.
Safety concerns, as well as the positive effects the parklets could have on local restaurants, will no doubt be discussed during Price’s Dec. 10 Zoom meeting. Lisa West, director of business relations, programming and outreach for Price’s office, said the councilwoman supports the concept of permanent parklets but “she wants to hear back from the residents on their concerns so that we can make sure whatever plan we put forth in the future mitigates any concerns that residents may have regarding parking, noise and other quality of life impacts.”
As far as Peterson is concerned, any of those impacts are worth the ultimate benefit of making the fixtures a permanent part of the neighborhood.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of people about this, a lot,” Peterson said. “And I can tell you most, I mean nearly everyone feels like I do. And I’m all in.”