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Alessa parklet is getting the boot

The time is up for an outdoor dining area on Forest Avenue in Laguna Beach.

The City Council on Tuesday decided that the 60-day trial period for the parklet, reserved for patrons of Alessa, an Italian restaurant at 234 Forest Ave., was long enough for the city and planning consultant MIG to gather input on whether the concept could stretch to other areas of Laguna.

The council voted 4 to 1, with Robert Zur Schmiede dissenting.

While a majority of the 400 people responding to a survey said they enjoyed their outdoor dining experience, some speakers at Tuesday's meeting argued that this kind of parklet is exclusionary, benefiting restaurant patrons only and not the general public.

"I see one half of Forest as a parklet, not an extension of a business," resident Roberta Kansteiner said. "I don't think it's fair. They built a restaurant. They didn't build a parklet."

In May, the council approved the controversial extension for the two months as the city considered whether creating pedestrian-friendly and outdoor dining areas could help revitalize downtown.

From its inception, the parklet faced criticism for taking up two parking spaces — in a city that has long faced vehicle-related problems, especially with the influx of visitors during the summer — and being too drastic, visually, including the claim that it blocked shoppers from seeing an adjacent business.

Alessa's owner, chef Alessandro Pirozzi, was the only one to respond when five businesses were polled by the city more than a year ago to gauge whether anyone would be willing to design and build a parklet. He spent more than $30,000 in design and construction costs for an area that seats about 20 diners.

In an interview after the council vote, a frustrated Pirozzi said he was "misled" into thinking this parklet's life would be extended.

Pirozzi cited wording in the staff report that said, "City Council review and approval is required for an extension of this temporary use permit for an additional 60-day period immediately following the initial 60-day trial period."

"[The city] asked me to do it," Pirozzi said. "I think 60 days is way too short."

Members of the council recognized Pirozzi's risk and reiterated previous comments that the parklet, which includes landscaping and vertical steel beams to support stringed lights, should have been vetted by the Planning Commission.

"I appreciate he stepped up to the plate, so I don't think any one should be bad-mouthing him for what he did," Councilman Kelly Boyd said of Pirozzi. " I have to stand by my word at the last meeting that 60 days was enough.

"You almost have to close down the street and put benches for people to sit and chat with each other. Not just for restaurants."

The parklet's last day will be Wednesday.

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