Parklets coming back to West Palm Beach

Posted at 10:51 PM, Dec 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-15 17:13:21-05

Would you prefer more places to sit or more places to park in downtown West Palm Beach?

Parklets are making a comeback, allowing restaurants to expand their sidewalk. And city leaders promise it won't take away from parking in downtown.

When you turn a parking space into a social or green space, that's called a parklet. You may have seen them in cities like New York City or Montreal.

West Palm Beach did a six-month test and now city commissioners are moving forward to make the parklets a permanent part of downtown and Northwood.

"The downtown area is growing in leaps and bounds," said Debra Lakow, co-owner at Field of Greens on Clematis.

And the sidewalk is growing, too.

"Let's face it, we're in Florida. The weather is perfect. Let's expand the sidewalk," said resident Ron Parker.

Downtown Development Authority hired artist duo Sherryl Muriente and her husband Beju Lejobart to create parklets for a test project in downtown last year. They've done similar projects in Miami.

"We designed something that was modular, easy to put in and out, in case there was a hurricane we could take the parklet out in 30 minutes," said Muriente.

Field of Greens was part of the test.

"We loved it. It's inviting it's cozy. It adds a whole different dimension I think to Clematis street," said Lakow.

In the new ordinance, restaurants can turn a parking space into extended seating.

"And the restaurants are going to be the ones responsible for paying for it, not the taxpayers. So, I think it's a win win," said Lakow.

But what about taking up the already existing parking spaces? The city hopes that people will begin utilizing the parking garages more.

"We always think they're taking away our on-street parking and it's free after a certain hour, but when you're driving around, to get that perfect parking spot is almost impossible," said Muriente.

The city says they will ensure that parklets will not eat up too many parking spaces. Only one parklet will be allowed on each side of a block with a max of two per block. And it cannot take up disabled parking spaces.

"Most cities are extremely expensive to park. Here it's very cheap. Across the street by the library, it's a dollar an hour," said Parker.

And some restaurants like Field of Greens and Chickpea say they're already planning to partner with other businesses to split the cost of a parklet.

"It's all about community here," said Lakow.

City commissioners expected to pass the parklet ordinance at their next meeting in January.

The Downtown Development Authority said the average cost to build and install one parklet is about $3,900, which will be paid for by the businesses.

Those who want to build and install a parklet will have to apply for a two-year permit. Designs would also need to be approved by city urban planners before anything can be built.