The Astoria City Council on Monday allowed coverings for parklets in an effort to help struggling bars and restaurants restricted by the coronavirus create more outdoor seating protected from wind and rain.
Cities have turned to parklets — outdoor seating areas in a public right of way, usually a parking space — as a creative measure to help bars and restaurants limited to indoor dining because of the increased danger of spreading the virus.
The City Council first approved a parklet outside the retail shop Cargo on 11th Street in 2016. Since the pandemic began, the council has approved three more, including two on 10th Street outside the Merry Time Bar and Grill and the Green Door Cafe, and another outside Blaylock’s Whiskey Bar on 13th Street.
But restauranteurs have been hesitant to invest in uncovered outdoor seating during foul weather.
Megan Leatherman, the city’s community development director, said businesses can come to city staff with plans to secure and weatherize coverings before a recommendation is brought to City Council. The city will not allow permanent walls, but will consider coverings to protect parklets from wind and rain.
“It’s going to be dependent on where it’s exactly located, if it’s protected at all,” she said. “I keep thinking of Blaylock’s, and the wind there goes down that street differently than it would down, say 10th or 11th” streets.
Michael Angiletta, a co-owner of Blaylock’s, said he plans to move forward sooner with a parklet now that he can have a cover. But the parklet would only be in addition to indoor seating of at least 25% capacity, he said.
“It’s not profitable for us to go with one outdoor parklet and no indoor seating,” he said.
Merry Time closed after the government freeze on indoor dining. Owners Terry and Todd Robinett plan to reopen Jan. 29 if indoor dining is still allowed. Todd Robinett said he could build a parklet on 10th Street as soon as February.
Kendall Padgett-McEuen, a co-owner of the Green Door Cafe, said the restaurant would move forward with its parklet on 10th Street as money and labor allow.
The parklet pilot program was approved for the duration of the coronavirus emergency, which the City Council on Monday extended through March 3 to coincide with Gov. Kate Brown’s state of emergency declaration. After the emergency is over, parklet coverings would have to come down.
“We will come back for a larger discussion about parklets after the pandemic,” City Manager Brett Estes said. “But it was felt that this privilege should be treated a little different, and that any coverings would come down at the end of the pandemic.”
City councilors generally supported providing restaurants more flexibility to create outdoor seating. New City Councilor Tom Hilton, in his first meeting Monday after being sworn in to represent the east side’s Ward 4, wondered about people seeking shelter in covered parklets after business hours.
The city passed a policy in December allowing restaurateurs to evict noncustomers sitting at outdoor chairs and tables.
“I don’t know if that policy applies after business hours,” City Attorney Blair Henningsgaard said. “And I’m not sure that the restaurateur would actually need to evict somebody at that time.”
Business owners cannot tell someone to leave a general covered area in a public right of way, Estes said. Mayor Bruce Jones said the City Council could revisit the policy if noncustomers in shelters becomes an issue.