Court Street

This photo shows the North Court Street. The photo was taken during OU’s spring break in 2019. Photo by Terry Smith.

City Council is moving forward with creating “parklets” Uptown, but they’re doing so as part of a pilot program.

An ordinance to create temporary sidewalk extensions in the public rights-of-way was introduced at the June 17 council meeting. This proposal, which focuses on “parklets,” was also discussed during the June 8 Athens City Council’s transportation committee meeting.

Athens city planner Paul Logue and Deputy Service Safety Director Andrew Chiki explained during the June 8 meeting how the use of parklets during the late spring and summer months every year could allow for more people to shop at businesses in the Uptown Athens area.

Parklets are outdoor seating spaces that are installed in parking lanes to increase the amount of seating or outdoor space that a business has at its disposal. Those parklets could help restaurants and other businesses abide by social distancing guidelines currently in place, Logue noted.

Logue said he has been working with the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce and Athens Uptown Business Association for weeks to come up with new methods to serve customers, and the idea of using parklets has been suggested in the past, but is now critical due to the loss in revenue that many businesses have experienced due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. He heard from 24 Uptown businesses that voiced the parklet project was a “strategy well-supported.”

“It was Uptown businesses who told us they wanted something,” Logue said during the June 15 meeting.

“The program as written currently has promised to assist businesses during this economic and health crisis,” said Athens Chamber of Commerce president Dani Underhill, who participated in the June 15 meeting. She noted many businesses Uptown have limited space, which is an obstacle during a time when physical distancing measures are in place.

“It has limitless possibilities for what the future might look like in the Uptown area,” she said.

The parklet program was originally proposed to span from May to August, but the plan has been modified to last until September. Councilmember Peter Kotses noted that because this proposal would launch as a pilot program, it may be tweaked further as time goes on.

Councilmember Sam Crowl again raised the question of restaurants’ ability to sell alcohol to customers seated in parklets. Law Director Lisa Eliason noted that two issues are tied to this: open containers and liquor permits allowing for venues to sell beverages in a specific area. Both would need to be addressed, she said.

Councilmember Grace noted that although this program is a pilot, the program will likely continue for summers to come.

Since parklets would reduce the number of parking spaces available Uptown, Logue previously suggested opening up an additional 34 spaces from a secure lot on College Street. Chiki added that opening up this space to people visiting Uptown Athens would create more parking spaces for people, as the parklets would eliminate 22 street parking spots.

The draft legislation for the project will divide Uptown into 10 zones, with each zone having a maximum number of permits available based on 75 percent of permit-eligible spaces, or four maximum (whichever is fewer). Uptown businesses can then apply for and receive up to two spaces. Chiki previously noted that parking Uptown has been down, which he said was “expected considering how things have gone.” The parking garage has been mostly empty during the day. As proposed, a permit for a parklet would cost $100, with a $50 application fee.

Councilmember Jeff Risner moved to add another amendment to the ordinance, which would require administration to report to council within 60 days to update council on the pilot project and make suggestions for improvements.

Chiki said that upon passage of the parklet ordinance, an application process for the parklets will soon follow.

“We’re under a pandemic; the pandemic is having a significant impact on our businesses,” Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said. He suggested that city council suspend rules and pass the ordinance at that meeting.

The motion for suspending rules was passed, and Councilmember Kotses moved to pass the ordinance. That motion also passed.

“I have a couple different hats I wear,” Kotses said. “I understand what businesses are going through right now.”

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