Parklets begin appearing in downtown Vancouver


The Mighty Bowl built theirs with help from LSW Architects as part of the city’s Street Eats pilot program

VANCOUVER — While Clark County’s entry into Phase 2 of reopening remains on hold, the city of Vancouver has opened the way for downtown restaurants to turn some street parking spots into parklets.

One of the outdoor seating areas has already popped up outside of The Mighty Bowl’s downtown location at W 8th St and Washington. Designed by LSW Architects, the wooden seats feature tall backs to allow people to sit without having to worry about social distancing in the age of coronavirus. The location has been closed since May 21, after The Mighty Bowl gave up on trying to remain open during the stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Jay Inslee.

This parklet outside of The Mighty Bowl in downtown Vancouver is one example of how restaurants could expand their business during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Mike Schultz
This parklet outside of The Mighty Bowl in downtown Vancouver is one example of how restaurants could expand their business during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Mike Schultz

The Street Eats pilot program was implemented last week via an executive order from City Manager Eric Holmes, and then ratified unanimously by the entire Vancouver City Council at a meeting on Monday.

Businesses looking to apply for a free permit to put a parklet outside of their business can do so at this website.

The program applies to restaurants downtown or in Uptown Village. Businesses with their own private parking lots can apply to use up to six parking spaces for outdoor seating.

The goal of the Street Eats program is to expand the number of customers restaurants can serve during the next two phases of reopening, which allow dine-in service, but only at 50 percent capacity in Phase 2, and 75 percent in Phase 3.

The city is also looking into potentially helping with the cost of building the parklets through the Vancouver Downtown Association (VDA), which is helping with the information campaign for the program.

The current order is set to expire at the end of July, so council members suggested it be extended at least through the Summer season.

“I don’t see where people are going to be willing to make the financial investment on constructing one of these if we’re just going to pull the rug out of them after one month,” said Councilor Ty Stober.

Designed by LSW Architects, this parklet outside of The Mighty Bowl in downtown Vancouver is an example of how restaurants can adapt during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Mike Schultz
Designed by LSW Architects, this parklet outside of The Mighty Bowl in downtown Vancouver is an example of how restaurants can adapt during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Mike Schultz

Holmes responded that the council could choose to extend the program through the end of October, or even until the end of the year if they like. The feedback was to allow staff to return with a recommendation on what they think the expiration date should be.

Others on the council, such as Councilor Laurie Lebowsky, said they would like to see the program extended even further.

“I do understand that this is temporary and it’s an emergency ordinance,” said Lebowsky, “but I hope that we do look ahead to when the weather does change and do what we can to support our businesses during the pandemic.”

Mayor pro tem Linda Glover, who is vice president of the VDA, said she would like to look into ways to make the parklets permanent on a year-round basis, at least in a limited capacity.

“Although we do need to recognize the pressure on parking, I also think that throughout the winter months, when the sun does come out, we do rush out and like to sit outside and drink a cup of coffee and see the sun,” said Glover. “So it wouldn’t be as busy as the summer months, but I do think that these could be used year round.”

That led to talk of covered parklets, which Sarah Fox, the council’s newest member and a city planner in Camas, cautioned could lead to new problems the group isn’t ready to consider yet.

“What we’re talking about right now is something we’re moving quickly on to help businesses right now,” Fox cautioned, “but you should be careful about this idea of moving forward without the proper public procedures in place for these permanent ideas.”

Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle agreed, saying it may be premature to talk about parklets on a permanent basis, or at least beyond Summer.

“Remember, we do get snow and ice and other things that happen,” said the mayor. “And when you start putting a roof on something, then you’re talking about structural pieces that would require a whole new set of required inspections and such.”

The city is also seeking guidance from the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Control Board, in order to see if restaurants can serve alcohol to customers using parklets. City Attorney Jonathan Young said the only response they’ve received is that restaurants need to individually contact the state to see if they can obtain a permit for outside liquor sales.

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