San Francisco parklets spur open-space debate

A battle is brewing citywide about small parklets creeping into the streets and the issues surrounding them, including the loss of parking spaces.

The popular Valencia Street coffeehouse Ritual Coffee Roasters, which has been in the spotlight when it comes to public battles over businesses moving into the Mission district, is now at the forefront of the open-space fight with its application for a parklet coming up against opposition from neighbors.

Meant as temporary seating areas that extend the sidewalk into the street, parklets have been popping up around San Francisco. But as the little extensions have increased, so too have the complaints about them.

In October, the Department of Public Works accepted 42 applications for parklets outside businesses and residences. To garner approval, the applications must be approved along with permits for sidewalk seating, according to DPW spokeswoman Christine Falvey.

Once approved, the business is responsible for the costs of construction of the temporary space, including insurance.

Approval, however, can be stymied by a complaint during a 10-day period after a notice is posted as required. The first such hearing was on Wednesday morning after a handful of neighbors sent in complaints about Ritual Coffee Roasters at 1026 Valencia St. and Farm:Table at 754 Post St.

Neighbors’ main complaint is the loss of parking spaces. The project outside Ritual Roasters, for example, would take up two spaces on the street.

Other people, however, worried that the seating areas would attract homeless people and drug use after business hours, and others were concerned that the areas are too close to traffic.

Laura Marcic, who lives next to Ritual Coffee Roasters, said she worries that the increased seating area will attract a crowd after hours, which will lead to more noise and trash.

“It’s a gamble,” she said. “I’m not all for it, but I’m a single mother and I can’t take off work to protest at a hearing.”

Ritual Coffee Roasters owner Eileen Hassi, in a letter to neighbors, said that the added space in front of the store would in fact help with the crowds outside of the coffeehouse by moving bike racks into the street and by providing outdoor seating.

She also noted that the loss of the two parking spaces comes after the shop gained four by the elimination of the 26-Valencia bus line.

Ritual Coffee Roasters is no stranger to contentious permit debates. In early 2009, Hassi was an outspoken critic of fashion chain American Apparel opening a store on Valencia Street. In September, Hassi criticized a permit that would have allowed the owner of Blue Bottle Coffee to operate in Dolores Park, telling local online news site Mission Local that there was not enough public outreach.

The coffeehouse does also have supporters. Of the 51 letters sent to DPW about the application, only 10 were objections, Falvey said.

Vaughn Shields, a resident in the area who is active with the neighborhood group, said he thinks the project will help transform the bustling Valencia corridor where The City recently widened part of the sidewalk.

“Personally, I’m in favor of it,” Shields said. “We’re on a stretch of Valencia that didn’t get the widened sidewalks that the rest of the street did. I think it will relieve congestion.”

Decisions on both Ritual Coffee Roasters and Farm:Table’s parklets are expected within the next two weeks, Falvey said.

From pavement to park

Parklets have sprung up around San Francisco, including these completed projects:

Castro Commons
– Location:
Intersection of Castro and Market streets

22nd Street Parklet
– Location:
Intersection of 22nd and Bartlett streets

Columbus Avenue Parklet
– Location: Columbus Avenue, between Vallejo and Green streets

Divisadero Street Parklet
– Location: Divisadero Street, between Hayes and Grove streets

Guerrero Park
– Location: Intersection of San Jose Avenue and Guerrero Street

Naples Green
– Location: Naples Street, between Rolph Street and Geneva Avenue

Noe Valley Parklets
– Location: Intersection of 24th and Sanchez streets; intersection of 24th and Noe streets

Showplace Triangle
– Location: Intersection of 16th and Eighth streets

Source: DPW

Case study

After a parklet was installed on Divisadero Street, a study found several activities increased:

37% Increase in pedestrian traffic on weekday evenings

13% Increase in pedestrian traffic for all periods

30% Increase in people standing or sitting in the area

Source: SF Great Streets Project


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