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Street dining is a hit

Mail Tribune / Jamie LuschOutside dining is offered on Calle Guanajuatoin Ashland. Patio dining in Southern Oregon has gotten so popular during the pandemic, it will become a permanent feature in some cities. In Medford, the city is looking at applications of “parklets” from several downtown restaurants.

Dining on the street during the pandemic was so popular it could become a permanent feature in downtown Medford.

“We’ve had really positive feedback,” said Matt Brinkley, Medford planning director.

The city is looking at creating new regulations regarding the transformation of on-street parking spaces into dining oases.

Over the past year and a half, the city has received 11 applications from businesses to convert parking spaces into so-called “parklets” to help restaurants deal with the social distance regulations surrounding COVID-19.

To date, six of the applications have resulted in the construction of actual parklets. Of those six, two have gone out of business, including the recent closure of BricktownE Brewing.

In the past, downtown parking has been a sore spot for many, but the city doesn’t believe the loss of a few spaces will be a problem.

“I think we can afford to lose six parking spaces,” Brinkley said.

Michael Workman, manager of Portal Brewing on Sixth Street, said his parklet on Front Street has made it easier to get his business ready each day.

“It’s taken a little work off my hands not having to set up the tables and chairs,” he said.

The outdoor space has been set up for three months or longer, Workman said.

“It’s nice to have plenty of seating out there,” he said. “It’s filled up at times.”

He said the outdoor seating has helped other businesses more than his own, including the Gypsy Blues Bar.

Clay Bearnson, a city councilor and one of the owners of the Gypsy Blues Bar, said the Gypsy didn’t have any outdoor seating previously.

“This is what the Gypsy’s been missing since we located here,” he said.

Sometime this fall the bar will move to a new location across the street at 111 S. Grape St., and the new location will have outdoor seating, so it won’t need a parking space.

The regulations surrounding the parklets were to be reviewed Thursday by the City Council.

Under the current proposal only one parking spot in front of a business could be transformed into a parklet.

Only one parklet per 300 feet of street would be allowed.

Parklets can be used for more than just outdoor dining. The city proposes using them for bicycle parking, art displays, recreation and lounge seating.

The city would also have regulations that ensure public safety in the construction of the parklets, which would be allowed only in the downtown business district.

Some kind of structure that creates a transition that is flush with the adjoining sidewalk would be required. The structure, typically made of treated wood, could not obstruct drainage systems along the street and would have to allow water to flow freely.

A 3-foot-high railing would have to be built as a buffer to traffic.

Shade structures could also be built over the parklet, with a 10-foot height limitation.

A sidewalk clearance of 7 feet would have to be maintained.

Higher quality materials would have to be used in the construction of the spaces, and wood pallets and vinyl fencing would be prohibited.

The parklets would have to be built in a way that would not obstruct traffic or sidewalk access.

A yearly renewal fee of $1,000 would be required, along with proof of liability insurance and liquor licenses.

A public hearing on the proposed ordinance is scheduled for the Sept. 16 City Council meeting.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com