Imperfect parklet gets council go-ahead
After weeks of contentious debate over a trial outdoor dining area that some people said was badly constructed and positioned, the Laguna Beach City Council gave the go-ahead for it to open.
In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the council determined that Alessandro Pirozzi, chef and owner of Alessa, at 234 Forest Ave., should not be faulted since city staff made mistakes during the planning of the parklet constructed in front of the Italian restaurant.
“We screwed this thing up,” Councilman Robert Zur Schmiede said. “I feel sorry for Alessandro because he has done this in good faith.”
Opponents balked at the appearance of the parklet when crews starting building it over two parking spaces along Forest earlier this month. Proponents espoused the experiment, claiming change is healthy and noting that other cities have enhanced their pedestrian environments with parklets — areas off of sidewalks that might offer seating, plants, bicycle parking and other features.
“Let’s see what it looks like when all the stuff is in,” Mayor Steve Dicterow said. “It’s the kind of thing that local government can do that other forms of government can’t. We try something out, get a sense of whether it’s working. If it’s not, we discard it. If it is, we keep going.”
The City Council approved the proposal in October as part of a broader discussion about revitalizing the downtown by adding outdoor dining space and making streets more pedestrian-friendly.
The parklet, with wooden floors and framing, will seat about 20 diners. The trial period lasts 60 days.
Pirozzi spent $25,000 on design and construction and an additional $20,000 to hire and train employees and purchase equipment needed to address the extra seating, according to a city staff report.
Council members said they wondered why the Planning Commission didn’t review plans for the dining space — which is bolstered with 3-inch-thick steel tubes. The end product, they said, looks nothing like the examples of other cities’ parklets shown by urban planning firm MIG during public meetings.
On Wednesday, Community Development Director Greg Pfost said the commission was bypassed because city staff wanted to open the parklet as quickly as possible after council approval in October to miss the busy summer tourist season — when every parking space in the city is needed.
Some council members said the vertical steel beams, used to string lights, are visually disturbing.
“There is too much heft to it,” Zur Schmiede said. “Most of these parklets ... are usually a much lighter affair.”
The beams were engineered to provide a buffer to protect diners in case a car was to strike the parklet, said city planner Wendy Jung, who added that pictures of other parklets might have presented their tubes as being thinner.
“I don’t think they were nearly as thick as the one currently out there today,” Jung said. “They may have been PVC-pipe diameter.”
City staff suggested the parklet include umbrellas for shade and heaters for cooler weather, but the council rejected those elements since they were not on approved building plans.
The city researched the cost of moving the parklet after an adjacent business owner, Anne Krizman of Fresh Produce, said pedestrians and motorists would have difficulty seeing her store from the street or sidewalk as they travel down Forest. Drivers also complained that it would be hard to park on either side of the parklet and still be able to open vehicle doors.
Relocating the parklet by one parking place would have cost $5,600 and blocked the views of Alessa’s neighbor to the west, a restaurant called 230 Forest Avenue, the staff report said.
Bolts driven 18 inches into the asphalt hold the parklet in place, making it “difficult and costly” to move, according to the report.
Councilman Kelly Boyd suggested a canopy of fabric pieces strung across the space would provide shade but not block views of nearby businesses, as side-by-side umbrellas might.
A canopy with lights underneath would make the posts look “more friendly,” he said. The council approved that feature as part of its vote.
“I want the 60 days to be over with,” Boyd said. “I don’t want this going too late in the summer.”
Other Forest Avenue business owners said the loss of two parking spaces for 60 days, especially during the summer, would hurt sales.
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