Shawnee City Commission OKs Streatery policy

Vicky O. Misa
The Shawnee News-Star
Over the weekend, volunteers moved the city's parklet a couple blocks along Main Street to its new temporary home at The Lunch Box, 217 E. Main, in Shawnee.

Guidelines and a policy regarding Streateries in downtown Shawnee have been approved, after much discussion — and, at times, heated exchanges — plus a deferral last month.

Though a city survey (comprised of more than 900 participants) marked an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the concept (80 percent in favor of), Streateries has remained a sore subject for Ward 2 Shawnee City Commissioner Bob Weaver and Ward 6 Shawnee City Commissioner Ben Salter.

In May the duo voiced opposition to hindering any Main Street parking, which Streateries could potentially do.

Shawnee Planning and Development Director 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, she 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.

“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 last month. “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.

A map of the downtown area indicates there are more than 1,500 parking spaces available for use by residents.

“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.

“They could choose not to use parking stalls at all, and just use the sidewalk in front of their doors,” she said.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic clamped down on business operation, limiting how — and how many — customers could shop, stores are seeking new ways to bring revenue streams back up.

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 argues the city's current parklet is not public-friendly, as it takes up parking spaces at storefronts.

His other issues are not parklet related; they concern enforcement of 2-hour parking rules downtown.

“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.”

Salter's opposition, however, was directly tied to using the spaces for anything other than vehicles.

He said the city spent millions on Streetscape to improve Main Street.

“Now we're filling all those (parking spaces) 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.”

In the end, their conflicts with the Streatery policy were not enough to produce votes against the item — the decision was marked unanimously in favor. Weaver did say he would ultimately vote in favor of the policy — with the understanding that he would like to see his concerns with enforcement addressed.

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.

To view results of the city's Streatery survey, visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/stories/SM-DFGDR35C/.

Watch for updates.

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