Bowing to complaints, the Morro Bay City Council has decided to remove its outdoor streetside seating hub that juts onto Main Street — what it calls a parklet.
But it hasn’t given up on the idea altogether. It plans to consider a broader citywide parklet program this fall as part of an overview of city parking plans.
The hub has received conflicting public reviews. Some businesses applauded the city’s efforts to create a more pedestrian-friendly downtown business environment, while other people denounced it for removing two parking spaces and creating unwelcome congestion in front of a well-frequented commercial area.
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“We tried something that received a lot of public input,” Mayor Pro Tem Christine Johnson said. “We saw how that can be positive and negative. I think we need to get back to celebrating downtown. … We can have the parking discussion before we spin out a (parklet program) discussion.”
Hearing a majority of complaints during public comment about the demonstration parklet site Tuesday, the Morro Bay City Council voted unanimously to remove the seating hub.
“This is an ugly eyesore on Main Street,” said Melody DeMerrit, a former Morro Bay councilwoman. “… This is the ugliest parklet, in the stupidest place, in the wrong city.”
Yet Morro Bay resident Jane Heath said that she thinks parklets in town are “a good idea,” and out-of-town visitors with whom she’s spoken have remarked on the charm of the demonstration parklet.
“At any given time, I’ve personally seen anywhere from two to 12 people sitting and reading books in that parklet,” Heath said. “I’ve had two people tell me they couldn’t imagine a better place than outside a coffee shop and bookstore.”
The council will consider a citywide parklet program when its parking planning is addressed over the next few months, along with downtown/waterfront planning.
The council’s decision keeps the door open to create a policy for businesses to apply for parklets of their own in other downtown areas — as well as public installations elsewhere.
Councilmember John Headding said he “supports the idea of parklets in general” and the creation of parklet compatibility guidelines, similar to neighborhood compatibility guidelines that protect the distinctive character of a neighborhood.
“I’m not saying we need 100 parklets, but one, five, 10, we’ll have to see,” he said. “It has to be a business-by-business, place-by-place decision. Each one is distinct.”
Headding argued the parklets would create increased foot traffic and benefit retail stores. Other council members, such as Noah Smukler and Matt Makowetski, also pushed for a parklet program in the city.
Linna Thomas, who owns nearby Coalesce Bookstore at 845 Main St., gathered 1,800 signatures from people opposing the demonstration parklet, suggesting another location at a city-owned property down the street.
While 80 percent of those signatures were from out-of-towners, more than 300 people from Morro Bay backed the petition.
Thomas said that through her research, parklets are best suited for urban areas to discourage the use of cars and offer a relaxation zone amid traffic and concrete clusters.
“Morro Bay has gardens, patios, courtyards and many outdoor dining options,” Thomas said. “We have many places to sit and relax that big cities can’t offer.”
Morro Bay Community Development Manager Scot Graham said city assessments showed consistent parking availability in downtown Morro Bay — including a study on a busy visitor day, July 3.
Parklets likely wouldn’t negatively impact parking, Graham said.
City parking changes could include rearranging how spaces are designed, including using angled parking to add more spaces — and parklets could fit into those new designs.
Another speaker, Betty Winholtz, also a former councilwoman, said city officials should be more concerned with major infrastructure needs.
“You have the wastewater treatment plant to think about,” Winholtz said. “Of all the major projects the city has ahead, is this a top priority?”