New Westminster to get its first parklet

Royal City residents will be able to sit and take in the ambiance of the uptown this summer.

New Westminster city council has approved a request from Westminster Centre for a temporary sidewalk extension, which would allow it to create the city's first "parklet" in front of the mall. The pilot project would consider whether similar projects could be created in other parts of the city.

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The parklet would be created by installing a temporary wood sidewalk extension in two parking spaces on Sixth Street. Movable seating would be placed around a stage, giving people a place where they can sit and enjoy entertainment on the weekend.

"I am very supportive of moving ahead with this," said Coun. Jonathan Cote. "This is a pilot. This is the first time the city has done something like this."

Cote believes the uptown is the "perfect place" to create a parklet as it's a busy pedestrian area. He said the parklet will help "enliven" the area and provide a place where people can gather.

"It's missing that ingredient that in my opinion is very important in a commercial main street," he said.

Blair Fryer, the city's manager of economic development and communications, said the seating will be set up between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily and placed around a stage. He said the seating would be brought in each night to avoid any nuisance behaviors.

"This is not new," said Coun. Betty McIntosh of parklets. "It is certainly something that is happening throughout North America."

A staff report included photographs of parklets in San Francisco, Bellingham and Vancouver.

"Parklets are intended as temporary extensions of the sidewalk for public uses such as seating, bicycle racks, cafs and green space. They are becoming increasingly popular in the urban realm, providing additional public space in cities where space is confined and land limited," stated a staff report. "They are typically built over on-street parking spaces, unused bus stops or other type of vehicular and non-vehicular spaces. The first parklet was constructed in San Francisco, California in 2010 and has since spread to other cities."

Coun. Lorrie Williams expressed concern about the removal of parking spaces in front of the mall, noting it's a place where people can park if they're making quick trips into the mall. She expressed concern that renovations done earlier this year in front of Westminster Centre removed seating that offered people a place to sit and relax and be part of the community.

Bart Slotman, vice president of the Uptown Property Group, said the renovations were done in response to "lots of complaints" about people smoking and loitering in front of the mall. Although those behaviors have been eliminated since the renovations, the mall still wants to provide seasonal programming in front of Westminster Centre.

Council approved a recommendation to direct staff to prepare an encroachment agreement needed for the project to proceed and to waive the fees associated with a temporary sidewalk extension pilot project.

Mayor Wayne Wright said the city needs to ensure a dangerous situation isn't created by allowing a parklet to be created next to the crosswalk and parking spots in front of Westminster Centre.

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