City Commission to review program that allows downtown businesses to use parking stalls for seating and sales

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

Outdoor seating at The Bourgeois Pig, 6. E. 9th St., is pictured on July 31, 2020.

City leaders will soon review temporary rule changes that allow downtown businesses to use city sidewalks and parking spaces to operate outdoors amid the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will review the downtown right-of-way program and provide direction to staff as needed, according to a city staff memo to the commission. The initial rollout of the program got mixed reactions from downtown businesses and Lawrence residents, and the commission previously asked that the topic be revisited once it had been in place for some weeks.

When the program was initially put in place, nearly all the angled parking spots that previously lined Massachusetts Street from Sixth Street to 11th Street were automatically replaced with parallel parking spots, creating space along the sidewalk and at the end of each block for businesses to use for outdoor seating or sales. The parallel parking along Massachusetts Street was designated as 15-minute parking. Businesses could also request to expand operations into the existing parallel parking spaces along the numbered side streets in the downtown.

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

Outdoor seating at Ramen Bowls, 918 Massachusetts St., is pictured on July 31, 2020.

However, about two weeks ago, after fewer businesses than anticipated opted to use the expansion areas created along Massachusetts Street — amid both a spike in coronavirus cases and complaints about the layout’s functionality and aesthetics — the city reverted the unused expansion areas back to angled parking. Businesses can still apply for a free permit to use additional sidewalk space or parking stalls near their business for outdoor operations.

Currently, 16 businesses have applied for a right-of-way permit to use the extra space and may continue to do so through October. Some of those businesses have built wooden platforms in the former angled parking spaces, to bring them level with the adjacent sidewalk, and have otherwise built out the expansion areas with benches, umbrellas, plants and other decorative elements.

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

Outdoor seating at Merchants Pub and Plate, 746 Massachusetts St., is pictured on July 31, 2020.

As part of Tuesday’s meeting, Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard said staff would be ascertaining whether the commission desires to maintain the program until Oct. 31. Stoddard said the commission could maintain that date, end the program earlier or extend it. In response to whether there is a possibility the program could be an option in the spring for interested businesses, should the pandemic still necessitate that, Stoddard said re-implementation could be considered later if needed.

In addition to the 16 businesses that have applied for permits, a few other business have expressed interest but have not yet applied, according to the city staff memo. The memo states that from staff’s perspective it appears the program as it stands is working well and should continue through Oct. 31.

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

Outdoor seating at Louise’s, 1009 Massachusetts St., is pictured on July 31, 2020.

The 16 businesses that have applied for the expansion permit are as follows, according to the memo:

• John Brown’s Underground

• Carroll’s Management Inc. DBA Replay Lounge

• Pedestrian Cheese

• The Bourgeois Pig

• The Mad Greek

• The Roost

• The Sandbar

• Trader’s Cache, LLC

• Jefferson’s Downtown

• The Burger Stand at Casbah

• Black Stag Brewery LLC

• Lucia Beer Garden + Grill

• Merchants Pub + Plate

• Red Lyon Tavern

• Louise’s Bar Downtown

• Free State Brewery

The City Commission will convene virtually at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, with limited staff members in place at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The city has asked that residents participate in the meeting virtually, if they are able to do so, using temporary meeting procedures put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Directions for submitting public comment and correspondence are included in the meeting agenda that is available on the city’s website, lawrenceks.org.

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