Citing opposition, city puts Brookland Park parklet on hold

A rendering of the custom-designed parklet that’s been planned for the 100 block of Brookland Park Boulevard. (HKS Architects)

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.

One of the removed bump-outs was outside Ms. Bee’s Juice Bar, where the parklet would be placed. (Jonathan Spiers photo)

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

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.

HKS Architects designed the parklet pro bono, incorporating Ms. Bee’s Juice Bar’s honeycomb-like logo. (HKS Architects rendering)

“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.

Brandi Battle-Brown

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.

Ann-Frances Lambert

“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.”

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kay christensen
kay christensen
23 days ago

Just another day in Richmond…

Michael Dodson
Michael Dodson
23 days ago

Got that right Kay; beyond strange. One local TV station says the issue was addressed after the meeting with the neighborhood and the parklet is full steam ahead. Another said the removal of the bump out was done with out UDC approval but the parklet did have approval but since the process was not done together and properly it needs more review, and on here it is now we might put in front of the closed (and smells moldy and sometimes urine scented) theater.

Talon Karrde
Talon Karrde
22 days ago
Reply to  Michael Dodson

That sounds about right…
Cory Weiner spent years using the media to pressure city council and the local developer to do something about that building because it was negatively affecting the corridor.
He eventually added the building along with the old american national bank to his portfolio in 2019…. Nothing has changed…..
It’s nice to be connected….

Morgan Greer
Morgan Greer
22 days ago
Reply to  Talon Karrde

The bank building you are referring to is still owned by Lamar Dixon through “201 W Brookland Park LLC” – despite the default judgment entered against Dixon Lee Development Group over a year ago (7/27/20) in circuit court. Another instance where city action (or in this case inaction) is holding back progress on the Boulevard.

Last edited 22 days ago by Morgan Greer
Talon Karrde
Talon Karrde
21 days ago
Reply to  Morgan Greer

Thanks for the correction.
I thought Lamar Dixon sold the building since he had already moved on to another location.
If he can’t repay that grant, then the city should reclaim the building and sell it.
Me thinking that had already happened was just ridiculous.

Jim Brown
Jim Brown
23 days ago

Taxpayers footing the $18,000 bill to get those 6 extra parking spaces back?

Justin Reynolds
Justin Reynolds
22 days ago
Reply to  Jim Brown

The odd part is of the bump outs that were removed do not result in new/more parking spaces. All of the bump outs were placed in areas people are not supposed to be parking as is. Placing the parklet in front of the old/vacant theater makes zero sense, either. From the way the complaints sound it seems like the businesses (a barber shop and a salon) between Ms. Bees and Ruby Scoops are only concerned about parking in front of their stores.

Jackson Joyner
Jackson Joyner
22 days ago

What is wrong with wanting parking in front of your business?

julie weissend
julie weissend
23 days ago

This is the antithesis of progress. What the heck is going on? Parklets have been shown to be great community enhancements and the people involved in planning this one did everything they needed to do- to the letter. This is completely unacceptable.

kay christensen
kay christensen
22 days ago
Reply to  julie weissend

Parklets have been shown to be great community enhancements”. Can you offer data to support this?

kay christensen
kay christensen
22 days ago
Reply to  Brian Knox

Thanks but, a San Francisco study is not what I was looking for- The “parklettes” in the SF study are not representative of those planted in Richmond.

I drive past at least one of these several times a day and have yet to ever see a person seated at any hour of the day.

Justin W Ranson
Justin W Ranson
20 days ago

There’s obviously not going to be any studies done on Richmond, given they just started appearing here. You can’t ask for data, and then say “Oh, not that data, the other data that doesn’t exist yet.”

Zach Thomas
Zach Thomas
20 days ago

Or ask for specific data and then complain about the city wasting money on the study once it’s provided.

kay christensen
kay christensen
19 days ago

Huh?…I wasn’t requesting a study…I’m looking for simple data that would support the notion these are successful. A solid indicator (and easy to obtain) would be: Did the involved merchants see a lift in sales attributable to increased brought about by the parklette? Pretty simple to find out.

I’ll keep watching for a customer to be seated at the drive-by spot…so far, looks like a waste of $10 grand.

julie weissend
julie weissend
22 days ago

This is from Arlington “Parklets are publicly accessible to all and serve as extensions of the sidewalk by converting curbside parking spaces into vibrant public spaces. Parklets are social platforms for the community and are often developed through a partnership with the County, local businesses, and neighborhood organizations. Despite their size and atypical location, parklets can contribute to the public space network and overall sidewalk experience by providing places to sit, relax, or socialize.” https://arlington.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&event_id=1660&meta_id=204425

julie weissend
julie weissend
22 days ago

From Sustainable Development Code, “The enactment of a systematic parklet program through an ordinance demonstrates a municipality’s support for walkable environments. The benefits of promoting parklet construction are manifold. Constructing parklets in urban areas with high foot traffic volume is an efficient method to improve pedestrian mobility, increase local retail profits, and reduce the reliance on vehicular transportation (in combination with other strategies outlined in this Chapter of the Code). https://sustainablecitycode.org/brief/installation-of-parklets-in-retail-and-commercial-areas-3/

karl hott
karl hott
22 days ago

Parking advocates, like me, aren’t proposing new parking spaces at the expense of other uses. But existing parking everywhere should be preserved for the benefit of everyone (commercial, residential, special event, etc.).

Ashley Smith
Ashley Smith
22 days ago

For anyone who frequents Brookland Park for retail purposes, this is fabulous news. I remember when they began “beautifying” the street. Mercahnts and customers were baffled with the rediculous idea of removing saught after parking in the name of concrete ground level street planters. Like who really thought that was a good idea? Take away parking on a street getting a retail renassaince. Made zero sense. The planter boxes are inconvenient, ugly, and completely contrarian to what the neighborhood needed to support the businesses. To see the City decide to remove these is a massive victory for those of us… Read more »

Brandon Blair
Brandon Blair
22 days ago
Reply to  Ashley Smith

AGREED!!!

Roger Turner
Roger Turner
22 days ago

It’s kind of amazing to me how many Bizsense stories end up having comments about available parking. It doesn’t matter if the story is about The Pulse, a new commercial building, new apartments, condos or townhouses. It doesn’t matter if the story is about Scott’s Edition, Cary Town, Brookland Park or the Broad Street corridor. Apparently parking is a very “hot button” issue where everyone has an opinion. It seems most people want more parking but then you have those that complain about “wasted space” with surface parking lots and “large masses of pavement” being un-attractive. Just proof I guess… Read more »

Dan Warner
Dan Warner
22 days ago
Reply to  Roger Turner

It’s all relative. Downtown Richmond is probably one of the most car friendly cities in the mid Atlantic. I had a friend visiting from DC and he was amazed at how we could just go and park anywhere in Downtown or the Fan the whole time he was visiting. I was talking about how I get takeout from a restaurant downtown and even on a Friday night I can still find a spot within 2 blocks of the place, he said he pretty much doesn’t get takeout from anywhere in the central part of DC, no matter the day or… Read more »

Zach Thomas
Zach Thomas
21 days ago
Reply to  Dan Warner

Yeah I think the huge difference in what people consider acceptable and sufficient parking is a big (maybe insurmountable) hurdle in these conversations. I’ve lived in the Fan, Museum District, Shockoe Bottom, and whatever you wanna call the area of Main St in the business district, and I almost never have to park more than 3 blocks from my apartment or wherever I am trying to shop/eat, and usually closer than that. And to me, 3 blocks is not a big deal, and I think the parking situation is fine. So it’s just hard to get on the same page… Read more »

Ashley Smith
Ashley Smith
21 days ago
Reply to  Zach Thomas

The thing is, just a few years ago it wasn’t like that. So to watch access deteriorate, well, one can only anticipate push back on said deterioration. Even if it’s better than DC. When forces other than vehicles, like infrastructure changes such as bike lanes and street level concrete planters, erode access, can one be surprised that there’s pushback? How much more do they want to erode our access? Why are we building for future residents and not keeping current residents’ perspectives and interests in mind? Alas. No easy solution when growth is involved. Just happy to see City reps… Read more »

Ashley Smith
Ashley Smith
21 days ago
Reply to  Dan Warner

Absolutely Zach! Many of us have lived in the City for several years, and have seen parking and car access change drastically in that time. Seeing Richmond compared to other cities in terms of car/parking access is typically comical because a) those other cities usually have MUCH better public transportation b) those cities pay much higher wages so paying a premium for convenience is no big deal and c) those comparisons negate the fact that we (residents of richmond pre- era of stripping parking and vehicle navigability) chose Richmond over other cities for a reason. I never took for granted… Read more »

Michael Grabow
Michael Grabow
19 days ago
Reply to  Ashley Smith

1. What you’re describing is public space, not “parking.” 2. Hi, I’m a neighbor (one who has lived here for more than “several years”) you’re meeting who supports removing parking. It *is* good for business and it *is* good for neighbors. There are plenty of studies showing this, I’d recommend you look into it before speaking on a subject you’re clearly not well versed on. 3. What parking was “stripped” on Franklin, 1st st, bpb, Leigh st, or chamberlayne? 4. Driving and parking is extremely easy here. Far too easy. 5. How much time have you spent getting around outside… Read more »

Last edited 19 days ago by Michael Grabow
Alessandro Ragazzi
Alessandro Ragazzi
21 days ago

It is rather unfortunate that we are so reliant on cars. rather unfortunate.