Athens City Council’s transportation committee discussed adding outdoor seating in the Uptown area to encourage more residents to eat at local restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Athens city planner Paul Logue and Deputy Service Safety Director Andrew Chiki met with the Council virtually on Monday evening to explain 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. The proposal would make parklets exist Uptown from the period of May 1 to Aug. 31. 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.”
Since parklets would reduce the number of parking spaces available Uptown, Logue 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.
Councilwoman Beth Clodfelter voiced approval of the measures and said the summer would be the perfect time to implement this model, as some area businesses are struggling and consumers are worried about the pandemic.
“This would also make our city a more of an attractive summer space, and it will help our economy,” she said.
Councilman Sam Crowl said that in his conversations with business owners, many area entrepreneurs voiced that some don’t have outdoor seating, but highly value their parking spaces because of their take-out services. Crowl also inquired about alcohol laws, as some restaurants were curious if they could sell alcoholic beverages to customers if seating was outside their business establishment.
Logue noted that per the Ohio Division of Liquor Control, restaurants wouldn’t be permitted to serve alcohol to customers if they were seated in the parklets. However, a community can go through a permitting process “in order to allow for alcohol to purchased into an establishment and then be taken out into the public right-of-way,” Logue said.
Chiki also noted that parking Uptown has been down, which he said was “expected considering how things have gone.” The parking garage has been empty during the day.
As proposed, a permit for a parklet would cost $100, with a $50 application fee.
Athens Mayor Steve Patterson also voiced approval of the project, but noted he’d like to ensure that the parklets have free access for water to flow under them during periods of heavy rain.
The transportation committee is chaired by Councilmembers Peter Koteses, Crowl and Clodfelter. The Athens City Council will meet in regular session on June 15 at 7 p.m.