By Raiza Giorgi
After almost two years of the busiest street in Solvang being closed to vehicle traffic, the Solvang City Council decided to change their minds about reopening it February 1 and instead will explore options to enhance the closure.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in mid-March of 2020, the council at the time relaxed outdoor dining and seating for local restaurants and wine tasting rooms by granting temporary encroachment permits into the street. The decision allowed patrons to be able to socially distance, and eateries and beer and wine establishments were able to survive indoor dining restrictions.
The council had previously said they wanted a goal of the road being open to vehicles by February 1, and staff presented various options to them from fully open to a modified version with one-way traffic. With the road being closed it impacts 1 ADA parking spot, 59 standard parking spaces and four motorcycle spaces, according to the staff report.
“I have a bias as we benefit from Copenhagen being closed, but I will say that it has been a savior to our business,” said Michael Lewellen, son of the late Royce Lewellen and now a managing partner to the well known wine label.
Longtime bakery owner Bent Olsen said the idea of closing Copenhagen to through traffic was not new and has been talked about since 1980.
“Solvang has come a long way and never looked so good. I think you’re on the right track to keep it the way it is and look forward to making it better,” Olsen said.
Councilman Mark Infanti brought up concerns of being able to access Parking Lot 2 (located behind the visitor’s center), and if they closed the street for good, who would pay for the improvements.
Councilman Robert Clarke said all he has heard from visitors and locals is they would prefer to sit outside especially given the latest variant, and said he felt it was necessary to keep Copenhagen closed “for as long as it’s appropriate and we will see where it goes,”.
Another speaker in favor of keeping the street closed is Rene Kaerskov, owner of several downtown businesses such as the Danish Mill Bakery and the Copenhagen House.
“In Denmark major shopping areas are closed for pedestrian activity. I also believe it increases the public appreciation of the Danish architecture. Let’s not forget there are plenty of cities competing with us for tourism. Your own survey says the majority of residents and businesses want to keep it closed,” Kaerskov said.
He also said concerns about costs should be paid for by the business owners, and the city can gain revenue for charging to use the public space.
“No one gets free real estate,” Kaerskov added.
Valley resident Dennis Beebe said he was in favor of the closure, but to make it prettier as in his opinion the pergolas are ugly, which prompted giggles from the audience.
Infanti then asked Olsen to address his area as it is located off Mission Drive, and whether he’s in favor of keeping outdoor dining.
“The bumpers we have are not good looking. If we are allowed to keep it this way with outdoor seating, we will definitely do something to make it more attractive,” Olsen agreed.
The motion to keep the street closed passed unanimously, and staff will bring the subject back to council when they have more information on costs and traffic impact studies. They also said they are willing to hear ideas from the public on how to improve it as well.
Reorganization of the council also occurred at this meeting with Infanti being appointed as Mayor Pro Tem; they also designated council members to various committees.
The Solvang City Council meets at 6:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Mondays of each month at Council Chambers located at 1644 Oak Street. To view upcoming agendas and minutes visit www.cityofsolvang.com.
To watch this meeting as well as other topics discussed on the agenda such as the Grant Funding Policy Update visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=JD3-pfEv0Ig.