The Alexandria City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to move ahead with the permanent creation of what are known as “parklets” and charge restaurants and other commercial businesses for the pandemic-inspired innovation used in the Northern Virginia city.
Parklets are where street parking is turned into additional commercial space for businesses. Typically, they’ve been used by restaurants for additional outdoor dining space.
Currently, the use of parklets is free to any business that applied for a permit. With those current permits set to expire in June, the city council signaled intent to extend those permits through the summer to help restaurants still recovering from the pandemic.
But long term, those permits will come with a cost.
City documents indicate 32 businesses received the free outdoor dining or retail permits for parklets. As of March 4, city staffers have met with 14 businesses about the specifics for them.
“This is public space,” said Mayor Justin Wilson. “We’re giving public space to a private business to make money off of.”
The new permits will run between $1,000 to $3,000 per space, with the higher costs in parts of Old Town. The least expensive permits for businesses would be in “equity emphasis” areas, primarily Arlandria and West End.
The new permits will be required Oct. 1 and will expire every Sept. 30 of the following year, If businesses waited until the following spring for permits, they could do so, but those permits would still expire at the end of September.
But the bigger cost concern for businesses will be the platforms that will be required to provide a level transition from the sidewalk to the parklet. Those will be required to keep the parklet from encroaching on the street and also to make the space compliant with the American with Disabilities Act. The removable infrastructure could cost businesses anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000, according to estimates from city staff.
“I’m just thinking this may be the tipping point, between the fees and the platforms,” said Council Vice Chair Amy B. Jackson, who inquired about the use of any federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act to help subsidize those costs. It’s not clear if any of that money is available.
Watch the Alexandria City Council discuss the issue. The discussion in one hour 35 minutes into the meeting.