With open space at a premium in Morristown’s bustling downtown, officials are considering a new place to put parks:
In the street.
The concept is called a “parklet,” and the town actually had one, for a week last spring. A pair of parking spaces on North Park Place were transformed into a homey gathering spot, with potted trees, rugs, a bicycle-powered cell phone charging station and a shoebox-sized art gallery. It was a promotion for Morristown Moving Forward, a series of public planning discussions.
Now, Morristown is among 18 New Jersey towns in a study exploring how to convert parking spaces into six-month parklets, which might serve as mini-cafes or work spaces or art exhibits from April to October.
“This is a buzz generator that current public spaces don’t have,” for driving pedestrian traffic to local businesses, Robert Freudenberg told the Morristown Partnership last week.
Robert is the New Jersey director of the Regional Plan Association, an independent organization that advises the tri-state region on transportation and quality-of-life issues.
Morristown parklet from April 2013. Will it have offspring?
The RPA is working with NJ Transit, the state Department of Transportation, the state Office for Planning Advocacy and the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority to look at potential sites for parklets.
Over the next few weeks the RPA will be teaming with Morristown and Morris County officials, the Morristown Parking Authority, Morris Arts and the Morristown Partnership to devise a blueprint for building a parklet in town.
Possible locations include Park Place, around the Morristown Green; South Street; Washington Street; Speedwell Avenue and the train station area.
“We want to see examples of best practices at the local level. That’s where people make decisions about where they’re going to live, and what they want to accomplish,” said Vivian Baker, assistant director of transit-friendly land use and development for NJ Transit.
What’s contemplated is a different version of the spring parklet, said Phil Abramson of the town’s planning firm, Jonathan Rose Companies. “Right now this is impossible anywhere in New Jersey because of DOT restrictions. That’s why we need this study, to determine its feasibility.”
Some 90 parklets have cropped up in Montreal over the last four years. San Francisco has at least 35. New York has four. Anecdotally, some cities have reported boosted business revenues around parklets, Robert said.
‘QUESTIONS NEED TO BE ANSWERED’
Michael Fabrizio, executive director of the Morristown Partnership, said he likes the concept but hastened to add that “a lot of unanswered questions need to be answered.”
For starters, where would a parklet go in a town where parking spaces are precious?
Loading zones are one option, Robert suggested. Perhaps new parking spaces could be created to replace spaces taken for a parklet. Restaurants or businesses might opt to sponsor a parklet in front of their establishments, to goose walk-up traffic. Sponsorship would cost about $25,000 a year, plus $1 million to $3 million of liability insurance, Robert estimated.
That raised other questions among members of the Partnership, which represents downtown businesses. Could a sponsor restaurant ban parklet users who don’t buy food?
Any sponsor would want to make sure his or her investment benefits the bottom line, said Partnership President Phil Del Giudice.
Stacey Schlosser, owner of Glassworks Studio, noted that many restaurants already have sidewalk dining. She thinks parklets should be reserved for other uses. She said she would welcome a parklet on her end of South Street, a few blocks from the Green.
Other Partnership trustees questioned whether parklets would become magnets for the homeless. And what about late-night bar crowds–would a parklet become another urinal for them?
The town is experimenting with other forms of open space. A Super Bowl-themed sand sculpture attracts passersby to a “pocket park” near the Grand Café on Washington Street. A CVS pharmacy planned for the Speedwell Avenue/Spring Street intersection promises a small park between the sidewalk and the pharmacy.
Kadie Dempsey of Morris Arts said the timing is right to consider parklets. Local agencies and organizations are receptive to new ideas, as evidenced by the spring parklet and other arts projects around town.
“We don’t want arts as an afterthought,” Kadie said. By involving sculptors and artists from the start, she said, the result should be a parklet which, in addition to being aesthetically pleasing, is “also a useful, living piece if sculpture.”
George Fiore, executive director of the Morristown Parking Authority, called parklets an interesting idea. “Let’s see what can be done,” he said.
Architect Allen Kopelson, another Partnership trustee, also was intrigued.
“Let’s pick a great spot and see if it works,” he said.