Shawnee City Commissioner Bob Weaver: Parking spaces for Streateries unfair

Vicky O. Misa
The Shawnee News-Star
Shown are examples of Streateries. Guidelines for these types of establishments are being discussed by Shawnee City Commissioners.

Last week, the subject of Steateries appeared to be a bone of contention for a couple Shawnee City Commissioners as the city continues to implement elements that align with its Comprehensive Plan.

Shawnee City Commissioners Bob Weaver (Ward 2) and Ben Salter (Ward 6) voiced opposition to hindering any Main Street parking, which Streateries could potentially do. Shawnee City Planner Rebecca Blaine said it shouldn't be a problem because downtown has ample parking.

The guidelines on Streateries goes with the city's parklet resolution that was passed in 2018, Shawnee City Planner Rebecca Blaine said. Parklets line up with goals in the Comp Plan, which was adopted in October 2019 and is anticipated to guide the city's growth and development over the next 20 years.

More:Proposed Streateries would explore new territory for downtown Shawnee restaurants

“Since the pandemic has hit, different communities have found it successful to add outdoor dining to their restaurants or cafes and coffee shops,” she said. “This allows them to do this.”

She said a lot of people are not aware the area right outside business storefronts — including sidewalks and roadways — is the city's right of way.

“Technically, before this, we didn't have a way for them to utilize a lot of that space, and these guidelines give them that flexibility, as long as they maintain a five-foot wide path, which is what ADA requires,” she said. “I think (the proposed guidelines) should give some parameters around how business owners can take care of that.”

Blaine presented a parking map of the downtown area, which indicates there are 1,562 spaces available for use.

“This really puts in perspective how much parking we have downtown,” she said.

The parklet resolution talks about how outdoor dining could be on the sidewalk; it could also use between one and three parking spaces, she said.

“We do have ample parking spaces,” she said, adding staff took into consideration the seven restaurants and coffee shops on Main and one on Bell.

At the maximum, 24 spaces would be taken at the same time if all eight of those businesses decided to go the route of using three parking slots for Streateries, she explained.

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“They could choose not to use parking stalls at all, and just use the sidewalk in front of their doors,” she said. “I do feel like we're finally seeing some hope in coming outside the pandemic and there are some concerns there, but we're not in the clear yet.”

There are studies that show having outdoor seating has allowed restaurants to come back up to 87 percent of their revenues, from pre-COVID-dollar times, she said.

“I think anything we can do right now to support our local businesses, I think that's important we try to do these things,” Blaine said.

Weaver said a particular downtown business owner has complained, having issues with the current parklet.

“(The parklet) is not being public friendly,” he said, explaining the parklet takes up parking spaces too near the business owner's location.

“We have people that have residences, who park on the street all day; we don't enforce it,” he said. “We have people that back up in the parking spaces from the other direction; we don't enforce it.”

He said there's also use of a handicapped parking space there that isn't enforced.

“Until we take care of those businesses we say we want to protect — I'd hate to see us expand and say it's just 21 spots because they can park in any of these other 1,400,” he said. “The convenience of parking in front of a store is one of the attractive natures we have in downtown Shawnee; it's just something that we've got that we don't want to take that away, we want to enhance it.”

Blaine said she believes an indicator that downtown is successful is when a storefront's VIP front parking spot is filled.

“I think that means we're doing very well,”she said.

Weaver said he believes the city is mistreating merchants, the very people the city says it wants to care about.

“We're not forcing them to do anything; I feel like we're giving them options and flexibility,” Blaine said. “They absolutely do not have to do this.”

Weaver said nearby business owners who don't benefit from the parklet are not getting a say in the matter.

Blaine said currently adjacent business owners on either side of a potential sponsor — the one requesting a permit for a parklet — have to give permission.

Weaver said there is no fairness in that, as it affects parking farther down the street.

Blaine said she believes it is a perception issue, as there is ample parking in the area.

It's a different environment, she said. Putting it to scale, parking four spaces away at Homeland on Independence is the same distance as eight spaces away downtown.

It may seem like walking a long way because the storefronts on Main are only between 50 and 75 feet each, she said.

Not all issues concerning the parklet option have even been addressed yet, as the city continues to work out details.

A plan still needs to be formulated about how and who (applicant or city) will move a parklet, once its permit has expired — and where to take it for storage, if needed, Blaine said.

Salter said the city spent $2 or $3 million on Streetscape improving Main Street, and now it's wanting to fill up the parking spaces.

“Now we're filling all those up with these Streateries,” he said. “We just can't continue to keep filling up parking places after we spent so much money to get people downtown.”

Why Streateries?

A few years ago Shawnee City Commissioners began discussions about how to encourage residents to physically spend more time in the downtown district.

Picking up momentum across the country is the use of parklets, a trend the city has already worked to establish.

At the end of October, downtown's first (and, so far, only) parklet was built and situated over two parking spaces near 9 E. Main St., where it currently remains.

Open to public use, the goal of the parklet is to offer extra gathering space outside local storefronts.

Streateries are a similar amenity, though they are more directly tied to use by a particular business — typically as outdoor dining areas for restaurants.

“A Streatery is essentially an open air public space installed in a parking spot or loading zone reserved for the use of the adjacent restaurant during their business hours — similar to a sidewalk café but in a parking area vs. on the sidewalk,” proposed guidelines read. “The purpose of the Streatery guidelines is to create efficient uses of urban space, provide attractive additions to local streetscapes, invite people to sit and stay in public spaces, enhance walkability and encourage business participation in a vibrant streetscape.”

According to the proposed guidelines, a Streatery can take up the three parking spaces in front of the sponsoring business. Just like the parklet, there are several rules and regulations regarding how a Streatery is to be built and what is allowed on it, such as lighting, furniture, things used to create shade and blocking wind, etc.

During hours of service, the structure is intended solely for use for the business’ customers, but outside those hours, the Streatery would become open to everyone.

Permits would be required, as the right of way (sidewalks) and parking areas are public space.

Commissioners deferred the item, with the intention of having discussions with downtown business owners before moving ahead.

Watch for updates.

Shown are examples of Streateries. Guidelines for these types of establishments are being discussed by Shawnee City Commissioners.

For story ideas, questions or concerns, reporter Vicky O. Misa can be reached at vicky.misa@news-star.com.