Larkspur Council to review parklet design standards

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A debate over whether al fresco dining parklets are good or bad for business is causing consternation in Larkspur.

The temporary program, which was established at the height of the pandemic, is due to expire on June 30. After addressing the issue in a two-hour meeting on Monday, the city council continued with the hearing. The council asked staff to come back with information on other parklet programs in Marin, including details on design standards and the review.

“I think the aesthetic, until we come back with an answer, is very important,” Mayor Dan Hilmer said. The council and community noted that they were unhappy with the size and appearance of some of the parklets and the design standards that needed to be in place.

Council members Scot Candell, Catherine Way and Gabe Paulson said with COVID-19 cases rising and falling, the parklet program should continue. Way said parklets provide community space and livability.

“We also get things that are intangible, which can be that sense of community and that sense of opportunity for people to come together,” Way said.

Towns and villages in Marin have been considering whether to continue the parklet trend that was designed to help struggling restaurants and cafes generate revenue during the pandemic. As of spring 2021, some businesses in Larkspur have been operating in parking spaces along Magnolia Avenue as the city ponders what the future holds.

Nine businesses have permits for outdoor dining. Four of them are defined as parklets located on street parking spaces. Amalfi Restaurant, Farm House, Roma Antica, and Burritoville Cafe have outdoor dining permits, but do not occupy street parking. Silver Peso had a beer garden which he has already dismantled.

Pico Restaurant and Left Bank Brasserie have parklets in place. Emporio Rulli and Mag’s Yogurt dismantled their parklets earlier this year to make way for the Magnolia Avenue redesign, which involved repaving the road and leveling the sidewalks.

These two companies will not be allowed to replace the parklets until the street project has been assessed and deemed complete, whether or not the parklet program is continued, said Julian Skinner, director of public works.

Residents and business owners in favor of parklets said the program was good for business and gave the community safe options as coronavirus cases continued to rise and fall.

Frank Caiazzo, chief executive of Left Bank, said the parklets gave the restaurant a lifeline.

“It rubs me the wrong way sometimes when we’re just talking about tearing them down with no real plan for the future,” Caiazzo said. “I don’t think having those extra parking spaces makes it any safer. I think the parklets and safe entertainment venues to celebrate and dine in during the pandemic and during difficult times, I think that’s what makes people want to come to Larkspur.

Opponents said there was a shortage of parking spaces downtown and that parklets were making the situation worse. Retailers have argued that the scheme shows favoritism towards restaurants and cafes. Parklets are underutilized in cold weather and this space could be used for parking instead, they argue.

Many complained that the parklet at Rulli took up three parking spaces. Gary Rulli, the owner, was not at the meeting, but submitted a letter to council with signatures from more than 200 residents supporting the cafe’s parklet.

Michael Ramos, owner of Redwood Barber Shop, said his business shares 12 parking spaces in a private lot with two other businesses, but people who aren’t customers take advantage and use the parking lot.

When his customers can’t find parking, it makes them late, which makes everyone in his store late, he said. The pandemic has made the situation worse, especially with the loss of street parking, he said.

“It’s not just about eating out,” he said. “I don’t know what the solution is but we really need our private spaces for our customers.”

The hearing is expected to continue at a special meeting in June.

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