Three parking spaces in front of Saul’s Deli at 1475 Shattuck Ave. could soon be replaced by greenery and public seating.
Saul’s owner Peter Levitt has applied for a permit to build a parklet, which would be the third approved under the city’s Parklets Pilot Program launched in July 2013. The first parklet opened in front of the Cheese Board Collective in August. A second one was scheduled to open shortly after the Cheese Board parklet, in front of Philz Coffee and Guerilla Café. That scheme ran into some obstacles but is back on track.
Parklets are public spaces but are built and maintained privately. The three-year pilot, which was inspired by initiatives in San Francisco and Oakland, allows for the creation of 10 parklets in Berkeley’s commercial districts.
The Saul’s parklet was included in conceptual drawings that the North Shattuck Association presented to the city’s Transportation Commission before the pilot program began. Levitt envisions a lively meeting space where people will bring take-out or coffee from any of the Gourmet Ghetto businesses and linger to chat with neighbors.
“There’s no real sidewalk life here, except maybe when there’s a farmers market,” Levitt said. With a parklet, “it’ll just be human beings and faces on the sidewalk, as opposed to just cars.”
Because parklets are public, Saul’s wouldn’t be able to serve food there, but customers could bring a take-out sandwich or cookie outside. Levitt expects that the spillover from the Cheese Board and other local eateries will fill the seats at his parklet and encourage those customers to top off their meals with something from Saul’s.
“I wish we were more European and could serve liquor or beer or wine outside,” Levitt said.
Berkeley architect David Trachtenberg, who is responsible for the building that houses Saul’s, has designed the parklet. His plans includes planter boxes around the perimeter, a canopy overhead, benches, round tables, and a heater.
Trachtenberg, who drew his inspiration from a recent trip to Copenhagen and Stockholm, aimed to design “a place that feels permanent, like a very good piece of street furniture, that’s going to hold up over time and be a beloved place to hang out.”
It would be the first parklet in Berkeley, and one of the few in the Bay Area, to occupy diagonal parking spaces.
“A lot of parklets to me don’t feel comfortable because they feel too exposed to traffic, so one thing we did is create a very solid buffer, using the plants themselves,” Trachtenberg said. “It’s going to have a quality of being like a little room.”
“The design is supposed to be such that even if the business isn’t open, the parklet can still function as an open space,” said North Shattuck Association Executive Director Heather Hensley.
Levitt and co-owner Karen Adelman will shell out most of the projected $45,000-$50,000 to build the parklet, but are hoping to raise $15,000 of it by selling discounted gift cards through an Indiegogo campaign. Books Inc., which is slated to open early this year in the former Black Oak Books spot next to Saul’s, has contributed gift baskets to the crowdfunding campaign as well.
“Basically any place that we’ve experienced parklets going in, they really add an ambience to a neighborhood,” said Michael Tucker, owner of Books Inc. “Certainly everybody who’s a tenant around there would benefit.”
The Cheese Board similarly paid for its own parklet, which also cost between $45,000 and $50,000, Hensley said. Guerilla Café and Philz are crowdfunding their slightly less expensive project. According to Hensley, most of the money has been raised and the businesses are hashing out a construction strategy, but plans to incorporate a bike corral have presented challenges.
The North Shattuck Association contributes $5,000 in seed money to each project, Hensley said.
Levitt hopes his wealthier customers and local merchants who want more public space in the neighborhood will help fund the Saul’s parklet, but he is willing to invest whatever is necessary to build it.
“I’m hoping in one or two or three years, the cookie sales or sandwich or take-out sales will pay for the cost of building it, otherwise I’ve just made a bad business decision,” he said.
During early talks leading up to the approval of the parklet pilot, residents expressed concerns about the removal of coveted parking spaces in the popular Gourmet Ghetto.
Ten new parking spaces were added when Shattuck was restriped south of Rose Street in the spring of 2013, which quelled some of the concerns, Hensley said.
“We might not have gone forward if we had not done the parking improvement project,” she said.
To those who say storefront parking is necessary for elderly or disabled customers, Levitt said: “It was a crapshoot anyway, at dinner or lunch peak, that that particular person would find a parking space right in front of the restaurant.”
Saul’s is one of the few restaurants in the neighborhood that already has outdoor seating, which often goes unutilized. Levitt doesn’t consider this a bad omen for the parklet’s popularity.
The current seating is “not architecturally designed around a few people gathering,” he said. “I imagine that a parklet will have that effect.”
Hensley said she considers the Cheese Board parklet a wild success.
“I think people are yearning for those kinds of spaces,” she said.
The city will come to a decision about the restaurant’s Minor Encroachment Permit application “in the coming weeks,” said city spokesman Matthai Chakko. If it is granted, Saul’s will later have to apply for a construction permit.
Levitt said approval from the city won’t prevent further dialogue about the project.
“To be sure, we haven’t made a final decision yet,” he said. “We just made a plan for one, so we can see it visually on paper and then talk about it with the community to see if anyone thinks it’s a bad idea, for reasons we can’t think of right now.”
Berkeley’s first parklet opens in the Gourmet Ghetto (08.12.14)
Berkeley’s first two parklets coming this fall (06.19.14)
Berkeley parklets stir up excitement, apprehension (07.08.2014)
Berkeley officials get closer to public “parklet” policy (06.10.13)
North Berkeley merchants want parklets for the people (08.31.12)
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