I would like to start by sending huge appreciation to everyone who has commented on social media, written letters, reached out to ODOT, contacted media outlets, phoned representatives, and more in an attempt to save the parklet structures in Hood River. It’s always amazing to see our community come together over something that matters.
I need to take this opportunity, however, to pick through the misleading form letter people have been receiving from ODOT. It seems to be recycling as a glimmer of hope when, for the impacted businesses, it’s not truly forthcoming with all the information. For example, as a co-owner of Slopeswell, I specifically reached out to ODOT asking for their statewide parklet safety regulations and for a notice in writing that they will be removing them from our business – I received the same form letter as all of you.
Here are my thoughts:
- “The City’s requirements to businesses clearly state installations on state highways require an ODOT permit.” This is true. And that’s why, when we received approval AND a permit from the City of Hood River, we understood all permitting to be in place.
- “Unfortunately, these parklets were not installed consistent with ODOT regulations and need to be reconfigured or relocated.” Again, as small business owners, we believed that the City and ODOT had worked together to address all installation regulations. My attempts to actually get written ODOT regulations about the safety regulations so we might reconfigure have been met with a form letter. All the impacted business owners I’ve spoken with are more than willing to reconfigure, which brings me to…
- “…need to be reconfigured or relocated.” As of Wednesday, July 15, we have not been given any “reconfiguration” alternatives for the parklets themselves by ODOT or the City – we’ve been told plainly that the parklets MUST go. The “relocation” they keep tossing around is not a viable option for the impacted businesses because none of us have adjacent city side streets to which we can move them.
- “The good news today is ODOT did issue a permit to the City of Hood River for reconfigured layouts at these three locations.” This is not good news. Not a single business owner believes this permit to be good news. ODOT has not consulted any of us on this permit. Again, this “reconfiguration” is not use of our current parklets, which follow all regulations as outlined to us by the City. It’s outdoor sidewalk seating, which now brings me to…
- “…ODOT and the City have agreed on a simple process to add more outdoor sidewalk seating.” Please do not be fooled by this. Envision the small sidewalk space in front of each of these businesses. Now imagine how many tables we can cram onto the sidewalk that are six feet apart for social distance and the safety of the customers and staff. Additionally, this “reconfiguration” moves tables from the parklets onto the sidewalk and then moves YOU, the pedestrian, into a parking spot on a state highway. That’s right – the solution is to move tables from a perfectly safe parklet and then reroute pedestrian egress into the parking spot. It’s asinine, dangerous, and dramatically impacts not only my business, but the businesses near me who have thriving curbside pickup and walk-up ordering right now.
- “…should additional businesses desire to take advantage of the program.” This means that if I choose not to “take advantage of the program” of cramming tables onto a sidewalk and putting pedestrians into the street, I’ll be out of options and the parklets are still gone. Please believe me when I say that there is no “advantage” to their proposed solution and, while I want our business to succeed, I will not engage in endangering guests, customers, locals, and visitors to this community.
- “This is an unfortunate situation and we’re doing everything we can to minimize the impact.” This is partially true. This IS an unfortunate situation. One that’s being created and perpetuated by ODOT. Sure, some boxes weren’t checked, proper permits weren’t pursued by the city, communication was lacking, but why does our small business have to be the victim? Why are we being punished for following all of the rules asked of us, ESPECIALLY during a global health crisis? What’s not true is that ODOT is doing everything they can to minimize the impact. Doing everything would look like acknowledging there were errors and then coming to the table for collaboration to find the right solution. So the parklets don’t meet statewide safety regulations? Okay, well I want people to be safe so give us the regulations and let us make changes. Let the City apply for permits retroactively. Make an addendum or exemption to your policies so that we can keep parklets at least through the summer and possibly keep our small businesses from closing.
Listen, when businesses started closing due to the pandemic, another State agency, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, stepped up to the plate to save small businesses. They made exceptions, they rushed applications, they created expedited communication channels, and they got creative about how we are able to do business. Because they saw a need and are invested in the sustainability of the economy in this State. If they can do it, so can ODOT.
Co-Owner & Operations Manager, Slopeswell Cider Co. & Heights Taproom