The on-street dining spots could expand the number of patrons restaurants can have in Phase 2 of reopening
VANCOUVER — Parklets are coming to downtown Vancouver.
Whenever the county is allowed to enter Phase 2 of the governor’s Safe Start reopening plan, restaurants will be able to serve dine-in customers again, but only at half capacity, and no more than five people at a table. Phase 3 would allow 75 percent capacity.
The parklet idea, which allows restaurants to turn parking spaces into extended seating areas, is one way of extending the number of people a restaurant could legally serve during the ramp up to fully reopening.
“A lot of them can’t even open if it’s 50 percent,” said Mayor Pro Tem Linda Glover at last week’s city council meeting. “They wouldn’t be able to support themselves.”
Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny Ogle first brought up the idea of parklets in a Facebook post earlier this month. The proposal has largely found broad support among the other city council members, including Linda Glover, who serves as vice president of Vancouver’s Downtown Association (VDA).
VDA jumped on the bandwagon quickly, dreaming up a multi-pronged campaign centered around the parklets that Glover said they may dub “street eats.”
“It helps the restaurateurs, but it also, I think, is a fun thing for citizens to be able to come down and enjoy downtown in a different way,” said Glover, who also serves as the Mayor Pro Tem, during a city council meeting last week.
“The campaign would really be unifying downtown, showing people that we’re making an effort to inspire people to come downtown and to support those businesses,” said Glover.
Councilor Sarah Fox said she has heard from other businesses outside of downtown who would be interested in a similar program, perhaps to allow them to utilize some of their parking lot for outdoor seating.
That is an option the city could look at, said Chad Eiken, community development director, but downtown presents a unique opportunity to test out the idea.
“This would be primarily in the downtown at least initially, which is where we believe restaurants and coffee shops really don’t have any alternative for providing social distancing elsewhere on the property,” Eiken told the council. “We’re certainly willing to look at that, but we thought we would start with downtown first.”
One question that will need to be answered is how the parklets could be made safe. Most cities require that they be elevated, with barriers to limit the danger of traffic driving by.
Eiken said that could add cost, which would reduce the impact of the parklets as a means for restaurants to expand their customer count, and also increase the amount of time the program would take to implement.
Councilor Bart Hansen raised the potential of shutting down some streets to vehicle traffic, at least during the evening, similar to an abandoned pilot project several years ago that shut down part of Main Street overnight on weekends.
“If we’re able to create that much space without COVID, why couldn’t we create it now?” Hansen asked.
Eiken said staff could look into that idea as well, though the parklets would be easier to implement in time for reopening in June. The council is expected to look at further details of the plan at their next meeting June 1.