City of Lawrence asks downtown visitors and businesses if they want outdoor dining setup to be a permanent option

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

The "parklet" patio of Papa Keno's Pizzeria, 837 Massachusetts St., is pictured on Sept. 18, 2021.

The City of Lawrence wants to know whether residents would like to see a long-term version of the patio and outdoor dining areas constructed in parking stalls downtown amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The city recently launched an online survey to collect feedback from downtown visitors and business owners about the idea and will be hosting three public meetings in the first week of October.

The program has allowed downtown businesses to repurpose sidewalks and parking stalls directly in front of or alongside their storefronts for outdoor dining or other uses. About 20 restaurants or bars have a permit to repurpose the space, and many have built wooden or brick patios to provide a space for their customers to be served outdoors.

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

The “parklet” patio of Merchants Pub & Plate, 746 Massachusetts St., is pictured on Sept. 18, 2021.

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

The “parklet” patio of Mass St. Fish House & Raw Bar, 719 Massachusetts St., is pictured on Sept. 18, 2021.

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

The “parklet” patio of 715 restaurant, 715 Massachusetts St., is pictured on Sept. 18, 2021.

The city created the program in June 2020, and it was initially set to expire after four months, but as the pandemic persisted the Lawrence City Commission later extended the program through the end of this year. In June of this year, the commission expressed interest in making the outdoor dining setup a permanent option in downtown and directed city staff to develop a proposal for a long-term version of the now temporary right-of-way or “parklet” program, as the Journal-World previously reported.

The survey asks respondents to indicate their age group, how often they have used a parklet in the last nine months and whether they are a downtown Lawrence business owner, employee, building owner or visitor. The survey asks what benefits respondents anticipate in a long-term program, what concerns they have about a long-term program and whether they would be more or less likely to use a business that has a parklet if there were to be a long-term program. Respondents can then share any other thoughts they would like commissioners to be aware of as they discuss the possibility of a long-term program.

Many downtown business owners have expressed support for the program, with some saying that it saved their business amid the pandemic. But some retailers have expressed concerns, and one previously suggested that there should be certain limitations, including limits to how many parklets can be in place in any one block and that consideration should be given to the degree that parklets are used throughout the business day and throughout the year.

A city news release states that a long-term parklet program would look different from what is currently in place, as additional logistics would need to be considered with long-term effects. Those include fire code, safety regulations, right-of-way permits, historic design guidelines, equity among local businesses and parking, among other considerations. The city has also waived the permit fees for the temporary program, and the commission would need to decide how much to charge businesses for the permits.

The survey can be completed on the city’s Lawrence Listens platform, which is available at lawrenceks.org/listens/surveys. No deadline is currently set to complete the survey. The city will also host three virtual meetings, which will take place at 7 a.m. on Oct. 5, at noon on Oct. 6 and at 7 p.m. on Oct. 7. A link to register for the meeting is available at lawrenceks.org/community-engagement/parklets.

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