Poulsbo City Council discuss future of “Streatery” program

With the Summer Fair “Streatery” program set to expire at the end of the year, the Poulsbo City Council discussed Oct. 12 the future of the program and if it should be extended.

The program has allowed some local businesses to use public rights of way such as parking spaces and sidewalks for outdoor seating throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program was first introduced to provide COVID relief to businesses by implementing “streateries” and then was extended in December of 2021.

Public Works provided a presentation for the council and asked it to consider: 1) Will the Summer Fair “Streatery” program be extended? 2) What is the appropriate “market” rate for private use of public rights of way? 3) Will this program be revisited on an annual basis or is Poulsbo Municipal Code needed?

In year one of the program, there was no cost to businesses for these spaces due to economic complications from the pandemic. In year two there was a minimal cost.

This year, five downtown businesses used the program. Burrata Bistro paid $600 to use three parking stalls, Details Wine Bar paid $120 for sidewalk only, Slippery Pig Brewery paid $300 for one loading zone, and Wester Red Brewing paid $900 for three parking stalls. The total fees in 2022 were $2,420. Fees do not include the administrative processing fee of $225 per permit and the fee/permit was not required for businesses with seating open to the public, city documents say.

The fee structure is being looked at. This year, the flat application fee to cover staff time for permit administration and inspection was three hours for $225. There is a separate monthly fee: Sidewalks are $10/month while parking stalls/hatched areas are $25/stall/month. Usage of a parking stall would cover the cost of a sidewalk.

A Department of Revenue audit determined that the sidewalk use of $10/month was too low, and the parking stall use of $25/month is considered the minimum acceptable rate for 2022. The audit suggests future fees should be based on “market rate” to avoid the city paying additional excise tax.

To help determine what the market rate should be, examples of parking rates from other cities were shown. Bremerton charges $220-$300/month, Port Orchard $150-$250/month and Seattle $255/$365/month. Another example considered property value, which came out to be $466/month for parking stalls.

Councilmember Ed Stern said he didn’t want the program to continue but some sort of revamped seating for some of the businesses could be looked at when the city does utility improvements for Front Street in the future.

“I have real mixed feelings about this,” he said. “The compensation question is relevant but it’s secondary because the impacts to businesses that aren’t benefiting from streateries aren’t receiving any revenue, it’s the city. We’re doing the best we can; we can’t give away public property. Maybe we can do a better job of creating punch-out areas but get out of the street, which is affecting other businesses.”

Councilmember Gary McVey disagreed that other businesses aren’t benefitting.

“I think the outdoor venues that have been created…I think that brings more people to the businesses, and I think that revenue is shared across other businesses,” he said. “I do think the streateries add a certain amount of vibrancy to downtown.”

He pointed out that COVID is still going around, and some people are uncomfortable eating inside. “The pandemic may be over, but COVID is still with us, and it may be with us for a while. I think the last year or two has certainly helped some of our small businesses.”

McVey also said the city needs to be charging more and mentioned possibly limiting businesses to two parking spaces if some of the space isn’t used very often. He also said more of a seasonal approach could work better instead of year-round if some businesses don’t want to use them in winter, which would free up some space for part of the year.

Councilmember Andrew Phillips said he never really sees people using the outdoor seating, and suggested having a wider discussion of what Front Street should look like. Councilmember Britt Livdahl was in favor of keeping the “streateries” but at more of a market rate.

“The public is telling us they like it. Our constituents are telling us they like it, and they don’t want us to make it go away,” she said. “I think they could look better but we don’t own all that property down there; we own the parking spots. There’s lots of buildings that could look better but we don’t own them. If we take this away…I don’t think we’re doing ourselves any favors.”

The city is inviting Poulsbo residents and neighboring patrons to participate in an online survey about the downtown “streatery” program. The survey can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RN7MMLP and is open until 10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19. The council will review the results of the survey, public comment, and other information presented by staff to consider extension of the streatery program.

The topic will be placed on the business agenda for more discussion and ultimately will be voted on at a future council meeting.