A planned parklet on Brookland Park Boulevard has effectively been parked, as opposition from neighbors upset about a loss of on-street parking has prompted the city to also remove several curb extensions it installed along the road last year.
The city’s public works department has put a pause on the parklet that was set to be installed in recent weeks in front of a group of storefronts in the 100 block of Brookland Park Boulevard. The streetside patio deck, requested by Ms. Bee’s Juice Bar, is intended to provide space for outdoor seating for area businesses.
The department also removed six of 14 “bump-outs” it installed last year along the road’s sidewalks, replacing the landscaped curb extensions with asphalt that effectively returns them to their previous use as on-street parking spaces.
The moves follow a petition that was circulated in the neighborhood and presented to City Councilwoman Ann-Frances Lambert, whose Third District includes the area. The petition opposed the bump-outs, as well as the parklet, contending that they take away needed parking.
Lambert addressed the issue at her district meeting Thursday, maintaining that the bump-out removals were announced in advance, and that the pause on the parklet was appropriate in light of the community concerns.
“Over the last several years, there have been a lot of changes to the Third District in general, and Brookland Park Boulevard in particular,” Lambert said at the start of the meeting, a recording of which was shared with BizSense.
“We’ve seen all of it: businesses opening up, gentrification, parking issues, and homelessness, and those are just a few,” Lambert said. “We’re here tonight because I’ve gotten a lot of calls and emails about the parklet on Brookland Park Boulevard and the bump-outs, and I wanted to bring everyone together so that everyone can get the facts about what is going on on Brookland Park Boulevard.”
Bobby Vincent, director of the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW), told attendees he directed the bump-out removals and made the call to put the parklet installation “on hold,” citing issues with traffic stoppages due to double-parking in front of businesses and concerns about how the parklet would be used by the general public.
Vincent noted that the bump-outs at street corners and crosswalks remain in place, while those removed were within city blocks. The 14 bump-outs – a traffic-calming measure intended to help slow vehicles and enhance pedestrian visibility and safety – were installed last year using funds awarded by the state, at a cost of $300,000, Vincent said. Removing them cost the city $18,000, he said.
Describing the situation as a “very fragile issue that has occurred within our community,” Vincent told the crowd: “The reason why I made that decision to remove six of them is…we were having an influx of issues that was occurring within multiple blocks of Brookland Park Boulevard, particularly the three blocks between North Avenue and Fendall.
“We’re leaving the bump-outs in place that are on the corner to help with traffic-calming and beautification and narrow the vision of people driving,” he said. Regarding the parklet, Vincent added: “I’m not saying the ultimate answer for the parklet is ‘no.’ What I’m saying is there was a need for me to put a pause on the parklet until we get the parklet situation straight.”
City approved project
Noting that parklets are intended for use by the community and cannot be reserved for a particular business, Vincent said a concern is how the parklet might be used beyond the purpose intended by Ms. Bee’s and Venture Richmond, the local nonprofit that helped the business secure grant funding for the project.
“Anybody can go and sit inside that parklet for any reason,” Vincent said. For the parklet to be placed, he added, “only to be used in a negative capacity by those who can legally occupy it, I needed to put a pause on it until we all have an understanding of what in fact it does, and what the rules are in regard to a parklet.”
The parklet’s supporters maintain that such understanding was already accomplished through city approvals earlier this year. The project was reviewed by and received the support of the city’s Urban Design Committee and Planning Commission, the latter of which held a public hearing before approving the concept in April.
Around the same time, the city installed five parklets it purchased as part of a pilot program to help businesses during the pandemic. The prefabricated parklets cost $10,000 apiece and were placed beside businesses that requested them and were approved: Stir Crazy in Bellevue, Hot for Pizza in Carver, Joe’s Inn and Scoop in the Fan, and Nile in Church Hill.
Outside the city’s program, two custom-made parklets paid for with grants and private funds have been in the works for months: the one at Ms. Bee’s, and another in Jackson Ward near Art180 that’s part of a larger plan funded by a $25,000 grant for enhancements and public art at the intersection of Marshall and Brook Road.
The parklet at Ms. Bee’s would be paid for with a $20,000 grant that Venture Richmond helped secure from AARP Livable Communities, along with over $4,000 raised through a GoFundMe page. The grant expires at the end of this year.
‘I’ve done everything I was supposed to do’
Brandi Battle-Brown, who opened Ms. Bee’s in January 2020 and a second location at The Valentine museum this spring, said she’s also put $1,000 of her own money toward the parklet, working with HKS Architects on the design that she said the firm developed pro bono.
Battle-Brown said she was never told the city was putting a hold on the parklet and only became aware of it just before it was to be installed in time for the annual Brookland Park Block Party festival last month.
She also said she wasn’t aware the bump-outs would be removed – including one outside her storefront that the parklet was designed around – until she came to work last Tuesday and saw they were gone.
“Ann has been doing a great job with the council as far as communicating with us as a community, but she definitely did not communicate to me that there would be a hold on the parklet,” Battle-Brown said Friday, referring to Lambert.
“This was something that was already put in place. I’ve done everything I was supposed to do,” she said. “I received permits from the city, DPW came out, Miss Utility came out, I submitted a $500 application fee to the city. I’ve done everything that I can do on my end, so right now, the only thing that is stopping us is the communication between Ann Lambert and DPW.”
Reached over the weekend, Lambert said Thursday’s meeting was an effort to bring all voices to the table after taking a walking tour with the opposing businesses and hearing their concerns.
Lambert said a compromise has been proposed to have the parklet placed on the other side of the street, in front of the old Brookland Theatre building that’s currently not in use. Battle-Brown said she’s open to that, but said she’d prefer to have the parklet where it was approved.
“They have one on MacArthur and it’s no problem,” Battle-Brown said, referring to the city-funded parklet outside Stir Crazy on MacArthur Avenue. “Even before the bump-outs, there was no parking on Brookland Park. I don’t care how many bump-outs you move, there’s not going to be parking on Brookland Park. My parklet only takes up a space and a half; it’s 30 feet long.
“The people that are against it just don’t want change, and Brookland Park is going to become the next Carytown,” she said. “It’s supposed to, because it’s supposed to grow. You don’t want anything to stay the same, and they can’t accept that and it’s shameful.”
Lambert said a meeting between the parties was being scheduled “to address the opposition’s concerns before moving forward,” adding that “parking is a priority for this area, especially this block.”
Lambert said the opposition came about after she was elected last November and originated from “a small group” of business owners who had circulated a petition that garnered 1,000 signatures.
“At the end of the day I want engagement from everyone in the (Third District) and if we are going to move forward collectively, we have to do it in a way where both sides can come to a compromise,” Lambert said. Describing the district as “gentrified,” she added, “Parking is (at a) premium over here and we have to change perception when it comes to the culture of Northside.”