CARMEL — The Carmel City Council recently approved a 30-day extension to the mandatory removal date for restaurant parklets and private outdoor wine tasting spaces to Oct. 12, but if a business keeps its parklet past this Sunday, it will have to pay hundreds of dollars for the month in a rental fee to the city.
The parklet program allowed about 60 businesses a temporary permit granted by the city to help provide some level of economic stability during the most restrictive period of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Carmel Mayor Dave Potter said that unless the council decides to extend it again, the city’s temporary parklets and outdoor seating for restaurants and wine tasting shops will come to an end next month.
“I think the issue of the use of public property with no fee was resolved,” said Potter of the rental fee.
The mayor expects the discussion about parklets and outdoor seating will continue as the ongoing pandemic causes Monterey County’s COVID-19 case rate to fluctuate. As of Thursday, the California COVID-19 tracking website reported Monterey County has 11.2 cases per 100,000, and a test positivity rate of 4.1%.
“It’s a tumultuous time, … we don’t know where it’s going,” said Potter.
The council could continue to provide extensions every month possibly through the holidays.
But while some argue that outdoor seating provides an experience for those not wanting to be in enclosed spaces with others during the pandemic, adds to economic recovery, and creates more character to the city, there are some who point to parking and traffic issues, safety concerns, inappropriate use of public space, and aesthetics.
“We’ll review it again at the next council meeting,” Potter said.
In May, the Carmel City Council approved a plan for the phased removal of all temporary parklets in the public right of way once the city returned to “business as usual,” meaning that 100% indoor occupancy was allowed and was not prevented due to COVID-19 restrictions, according to city documents.
The California economy was reopened on June 15 when most COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.
Carmel set a mandatory parklet removal date of July 14 for wine tasting shops and Sept. 12 for restaurants. All wine tasting shops have since removed their parklets, but are currently allowed to use private outdoor spaces until such time that the restaurant parklets are removed.
At its meeting on Sept. 7, the City Council approved the 30-day extension in a 3-2 vote, but in about a month, all existing temporary parklets in the city of Carmel will have to be removed.
Potter, Mayor Pro-tem Bobby Richards, and Councilwoman Carrie Theis voted in favor while Councilman Jeff Baron and Councilwoman Karen Ferlito voted against.
But those businesses that opt to retain their parklets past this Sunday will have to pay $842 per single parking space no later than 5 p.m., on Monday.
“If you divide the fee by 30 days, it’s about $28 a day,” said Potter.
If the rental fee is not received on time, the city may remove a parklet and any other materials in the public right-of-way at the business owner’s expense.
“The majority of the public enjoys the parklets,” said Potter who cited a survey of community members, businesses and visitors.
The mayor said that about 10 businesses immediately signed up and paid the first month’s fee.
Private outdoor wine tasting spaces have until close of business on Oct. 12 to move fully back indoors. Since wine tasting shops have already dismantled and removed their parklets, they will not be allowed to reconstruct them in the public right-of-way.
Potter said he personally wants to see the parklets continue but with changes to how they are implemented including possibly requiring the space be attached to the building and the sidewalk area flowing around them much like what the city of Monterey has done in its downtown area.
A survey was taken earlier this year to gauge general public sentiment about future permanent outdoor seating and dining in the public right-of-way, according to Carmel Director of Community Planning and Building Brandon Swanson, who added the survey has no bearing on the discussion about the temporary parklets.
The City of Carmel Outdoor Seating Ad-Hoc Committee survey aimed to gather feedback on some of the largest and most complicated topics surrounding permanent outdoor seating if it were to move forward in the future.
“The survey received approximately 1,400 individual responses, with about 60% of those coming from residents,” said Swanson in an email. “The next step in the process for permanent outdoor dining will be for the Planning Commission to review the survey results along with input from the Outdoor Seating Ad Hoc Committee, and then make a formal recommendation to the City Council on whether or not the city should officially pursue developing a program and regulations.”
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