Parking spaces or a ‘parklet’? Baton Rouge Metro Council debates downtown land use _lowres

A parklet was built at Third Street and Laurel Street in front of the future downtown Magpie Cafe in the Commerce Building, which was converted to apartments.

A miniature park downtown, dubbed a “parklet,” sparked commotion Wednesday at the Metro Council meeting when residents and landscape architects debated whether it added to Baton Rouge’s downtown aesthetics or merely took away parking spaces.

The parklet was built at Third Street and Laurel Street in front of the future downtown Magpie Cafe in the Commerce Building.

But after it was built and approved by leaders in the city-parish’s Department of Development and Department of Transportation and Drainage, it was discovered that fire trucks could not make the turn around the narrow corner.

“We don’t want to stop economic development. We certainly don’t want to stand in the way of that, but public safety to us comes first, and we need to be able to get to where the call is,” said Chad Major, the assistant to the Baton Rouge Fire Department’s fire chief.

Carey Chauvin, one of the officials who signed off on the parklet’s permit, said developer Michael Lang followed every procedure to build the parklet, but old turning templates that specified how far the parklet could spill into the street did not fit new fire truck turning specifications, he said.

Chauvin said the city’s Department of Traffic Engineering is in the process of fixing the problems.

“They’ve been out there. The curb’s been marked and we’re in the process of making those modifications,” Chauvin said.

Others questioned whether adding green space to downtown should be more of a priority than adding parking spaces. Bradley Bates of downtown’s Bates and Thigpen clothing store said the parklet has taken away three parking spaces.

“Every single day, we have someone come in the store and say, I hate to come down here but there’s no place to park,” Bates said.

But Elizabeth “Boo” Thomas, the president and CEO of the Center for Planning and Excellence, called the parklet “a dream come true.” She said it fits the forward-thinking vision of downtown.

“These areas just add to quality of life, more so than a parking space,” said landscape architect Joseph Furr.

The Metro Council voted to affirm the creation of the parklet once the modifications are made and it falls into compliance with Fire Department requirements.