Commercial Zoning

Land Use Innovation: Raleigh Joins Urban Centers Employing "Parklets"

Raleigh, North Carolina — the Land Use Litigator’s home base — has officially entered the fray of urban centers embracing the planning and business value of urban “parklets”.  The City is now accepting applications from private citizens, foundations and businesses to create your very own parklet.  The City’s program comes to life after the completion of a feasibility study, viewable here.

What’s a “parklet”?  A parklet is a small segment of a right-of-way, usually a parallel parking spot on a public road, that has been temporarily converted from automobile use to a cordoned-off space for pedestrian-only use as “open space” in the way a public park is used as open space.  Parklets will locate and can last in duration depending on the program in place.

Parklets have been popping up in a number of cities, from San Francisco (generally regarded as the American pioneer), to New York, to Los Angeles, to Oakland, to Philadelphia, to Chicago.  To some, these tiny domains of style and expression signal the surging urban value of pedestrianism over vehiclism.  To others, they signal an important, pro-open space counterpoint to the growing urban infill movement.  To still others, they represent an economic opportunity, the chance to leverage a business-friendly, urban-life-is-seamless land planning environment into publicity, an attractive sidewalk speedbump and/or added seating space.      

Raleigh is jumping into the fray at the right time, it seems.  Some best practices have already emerged.  According to, “Parklets work best in front of businesses such as coffee houses and pizza places, which thrive on walk-up customers.  [Parklets] need to be placed on streets with relatively low speed limits, and they are too obstructive to work on corners.  They should be visually distinct: San Francisco requires that any benches or chairs in a parklet look different from the seating at the adjacent business, to reinforce the idea that these are public spaces rather than an extension of a private cafe or coffee house.  Similarly, those cafes aren’t allowed to serve customers sitting in the parklets.”

In Raleigh, parklets are only allowed in Downtown Overlay Districts and adjacent Pedestrian Business Overlay Districts, as those are defined and mapped by the City’s “new” zoning laws, and are established for one year.  An application must be filed with the City, and it must include a petition signed by 75% of property owners/leaseholders on the applicable block face.  The applicant is responsible for paying the “parking encumbrance fee”, which means the applicant will bear the cost of renting the parking space or spaces for the year period covered by the permit.  The full monty of requirements, allowances, limits and other things is viewable on the City’s website here.

This program is interesting to us because it represents the dynamism we’re seeing in American urban planning, the intersection of land use and business opportunities, and the interesting tension over automobiles as the urban density and infill cycle climbs back to an apex.  Opportunities for business, using the land use shovel, will continue to grow.  The savvy will take proper advantage.

“Parklet closes at dusk.  At which point, you may take three steps to the left, which is not closed at dusk.”
Mike Thelen practices in Womble, Carlyle’s Real Estate Litigation and Land Use practice group. He regularly represents a wide variety of clients, from local governments to businesses, in land use and land development matters in both state and federal venues throughout North Carolina.

Follow the North Carolina Land Use Litigator on Twitter at @nclanduselaw and “like” us on Facebook here.

Categories: Commercial Zoning

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