Shawnee City Commission this week took another step toward revitalizing Shawnee's downtown district as they approved a brand new policy Monday. The effort to increase social interaction comes in the form of parklets.

Shawnee City Commission this week took another step toward revitalizing Shawnee's downtown district as they approved a brand new policy Monday. The effort to increase social interaction comes in the form of parklets.

Community Development Director Justin DeBruin explained the idea to the board this week.

“For those who don't know what a parklet is, it's essentially taking two or three parking spaces — in our case downtown — and converting those into a platform for extended pedestrian use,” he said. “The parklet spaces would have things like plantings, benches, seats, tables and umbrellas, really to extend the public use out into the public right-of-way.”

This was initially brought up in the 2012 Downtown Revitalization Study for Shawnee, DeBruin said.

It was incorporated as a stepping stone for potential progress in the downtown area.

“Later, Blue Zones, at their built environment summit, established eight to 10 policies regarding land-use,” he said. “This landed as one of the policies to proceed with.”

DeBruin went over several details of the proposed policy that coincide with current guidelines:

• Parklets specifically would be in the downtown district.

“This was selected mostly due to the fact that the speed limits are under 25 mph in these particular zones,” he said.

• Applicants will be approved on a case-by-case basis. “That permit would be through the city manager's office, much like special event permit that we have now,” he said.

• Parklets are established in the street right-of-way and must remain open to the public — not extension of private use.

“What that means to us,” DeBruin said, “is that it's not for a particular restaurant or business to post sales on this particular platform.”

• No alcohol in public spaces, DeBruin said; adjacent business owners must give consent to the applicant's request; additional written notice will be provided 10 days prior to all property owners on that block; liability insurance coverage is $1 million, making sure the City of Shawnee is additionally insured and valid for the duration of the permit.

• “Because we have angled parking it makes it a little more difficult to fit, but two or three spaces is more than adequate,” he said. “Access will be from curbside only.” It has to be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible, DeBruin said. The platforms must be seamless against the sidewalk, not block the guttering underneath and access will be blocked by three-foot barriers along the outside, two feet from adjacent parking spaces and at least two feet from travel lanes.

• No sales are allowed in the parklet, he said.

“Food and beverages can be brought into and consumed on the parklet, but as far as service, that will not happen on these,” he said.

Also, permit holders will be responsible for cleaning, maintenance and pest control.

DeBruin said there will be 30-day and 90-day permits allowing for a parklet, which represents, at this time, a more seasonal approach to the effort.

The Shawnee Planning Commission recommended approval, DeBruin said, but did have some concerns.

“They were a little bit concerned about lack of advertising that's allowed in there; per our city code we can't have off-premises advertising on the public right-of-way,” he said.

Aside from that, their bigger question was ensuring it would be a benefit to the city.

“They want to be sure this is something that will be used in the future, if brought forward as a policy,” he said, “especially due to the general cost of the parklets, which can range from $8,000 to $15,000 or higher.”

DeBruin said after researching 15-20 communities with this type of policy, parklets are most often purchased by nonprofits or foundations or groups.

“It's an opportunity for the public to come and sit, rest, work, whatever they choose to do,” he said.

The city, especially since about 2010, has really put measures toward the commission for the betterment of downtown, DeBruin said — including residential uses and increased use within the public right-of-way for current businesses.

“In building this particular guideline, I borrowed from several communities — including OKC — for the bulk of the language,” DeBruin said, “so we are making sure we are protected as far as the proper notice to adjacent property owners for the use of these spaces.”

Having it as a case-by-case basis allows the city to make those determinations and to give people the opportunity to communicate with the city manager or staff if there are any concerns with a permit, he said.

“Oklahoma City started with a Parklet Day they essentially did once a year,” he said, “but as of about 2016 they opened up their permanent process for this.”

Most communities nationwide, at least the innovators of this particular policy started around 2006-2010, DeBruin said, so there are case studies that show the benefits and the challenges that have come.

The 30-day and 90-day permits cost $100, regardless of how many (parking) spaces are used.

Especially this early on, the city will be able to adapt the policy moving forward, but this will allow us to try something maybe on a (temporary) basis, he said.

Blue Zones Project Community Program Manager Rachael Melot shared some of the findings.

“There are several case studies about the businesses that these sit in front of and the adjacent businesses,” she said. “They are seeing up to a 20-percent increase in traffic or profits as a result.”

Melot serves on the built environment committee along with DeBruin and several others who have been researching the parklets policy.

“We know there are a lot of concerns around people lingering in the park spaces,” she said, “but actually what the case studies have shown is that because this becomes such a social environment that it actually deters that.”

According to Melot, research from the OU Reimagine Downtown Survey confirms that the parklets being in place actually increase activity in a way that they actually see less vagrancy, lingering or loitering.

As concerns were raised recently at a Planning Commission meeting, Melot addressed the perception there are limited parking spaces downtown.

“We know there's an abundance of parking in a block,” she said.

It appears there is support rallying to get on board.

“We are on the 400 E.Main block and there are new business owners and new building owners on our block that are also interested in this and would like to see this policy in place so they could take advantage of it, as well,” she said. “The Blue Zones Project will look at partnerships real soon and we know that others would, as well. We appreciate your consideration.”

Others at the meeting showed support for the effort, as well.

Daniel Shaughnessy came forward to show his support.

“(I'm) simply a community advocate, owner of ShawneeCtv, and I'm really excited about the parklet policy coming before you,” he said. “As a resident and someone who spends a lot of time downtown, it would be very nice to have something like the parklets, as described.”

There are lots of different ways they can be handled, he said, “and I leave that up to you guys and your knowledge of the citizenry and business — also the needs of Shawnee — but as a resident I am very excited about parklets and the opportunity they present for more citizens to come downtown and enjoy the space.”

Ward 1 City Commissioner Ed Bolt also backed the policy proposal.

“As a building owner on Main Street, personally I would very much be in favor of this,” he said. “Most of you know I've been very involved in trying to get downtown revitalized and trying to get some activity down there for quite awhile. I think this would be a very positive step — especially in the block Rachael mentioned — that's the block where my building is. I know that's probably where you're going to see it first.”

He said he believes it's a big plus for downtown.

Ward 5 City Commissioner Mark Sehorn asked what would happen after a permit expires.

“Hopefully it will move to another business,” Bolt said.

City Manager Justin Erickson said the permit could potentially be renewed up to 180 days.

Mayor Richard Finley said he expects the policy, at some point, may become more permanent.

“It's done both ways in other cities,” he said. “It's an idea with a very short window that we can extend it with a see-what-works-and-what-doesn't approach to see what the community accepts.”

The board approved the policy unanimously.

Watch for updates.