The City of Hood River will take over jurisdiction of Oak Street from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) so that businesses will be able to keep using their outdoor “parklet” structures.
The City of Hood River began permitting “parklets,” temporary structures built in parking spaces for businesses to use as outdoor seating space, in June as a way to support businesses struggling to operate under COVID conditions.
“Opening public spaces is one of the low cost options of ... supporting local businesses that we’ve seen all across the country,” said Hood River City Manager Rachael Fuller. The City of Bingen and the City of White Salmon also approved the temporary parklets, and the Mt. Adams Chamber of Commerce reported that the structures have helped restaurants accommodate for outdoor seating and social distancing; the City of The Dalles recently approved a proposal by The Dalles Main Street to build parklets for interested businesses.
The idea was popular among Hood River bars and restaurants, and the structures began popping up across town — including on Oak Street and 12th Street, which are both considered by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to be part of the state-owned U.S. Highway 30.
“Early on, we communicated plans with ODOT and they signaled support,” said Fuller; and so the city took that as a sign to go ahead with permitting the parklets on those streets.
However, in early July, ODOT began asking for structures located on Highway 30 to be removed.
“The parklets (structures) were not permitted as a number of people claimed. We did not allow the structures on U.S. 30,” said Lou Torres, public information officer for ODOT.
Torres said that because the parklets are not “a transportation related activity” under the Highway Trust Fund, they aren’t allowed in ODOT’s right of way.
“The city was well aware of the requirements for allowing structures on ODOT right of way and it should have advised the businesses accordingly,” said Torres.
The conflict came to a head on Wednesday, July 15, when ODOT issued three businesses — Andrew’s Pizza and 64 Oz. Taphouse, both located on Oak Street, and Slopeswell Cider Co., located on 12th Street — official orders to remove the parklets from the street within 24 hours, or ODOT would impound them.
“We’ve been caught in this miscommunication,” said Slopeswell Manager Kristyn Fix, “and ultimately, the businesses are the ones being hurt.”
ODOT gave these three businesses the option to “reconfigure” their outdoor seating structures by moving them onto the sidewalk or onto an adjacent street, but social distancing requirements made those alternatives impractical for those businesses.
“We understand that mistakes were made, and we were hoping that ODOT would come up with uncharted exemptions because these are uncharted times,” said Fix, “so there was frustration there.”
On Thursday, July 16, the City of Hood River announced that they’d come to an agreement with ODOT: The city would take jurisdiction of Oak Street by July 27 and the parklets could stay in the meantime, but Slopeswell’s parklet on 12th street needed to be moved to either an adjacent city street or private property by July 21.
Slopeswell intends to move the parklet to a private parking lot located behind their business, said Fix, and the City of Hood River is loaning them heavy equipment to help with the move.
“It’s not all or nothing, so I feel fortunate for that,” said Fix. “ ... It’s going to be a bit of a tricky configuration, but we’re trying to make the best of it.”
The details of the jurisdictional transfer have yet to be decided, said Fuller, and more information is to come.
“We are going to be as flexible as we can and brainstorm as many options as we can to support the community,” said Fuller.