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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on January 12th, 2022, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 22, Issue 46 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 22, Issue 46

Solvang ponders closing Copenhagen Drive to vehicles permanently

By Caleb Wiseblood

On Jan. 10, Solvang reversed its directive to reopen Copenhagen Drive in downtown Solvang to cars, trucks, and motorcycles. 

In mid-December, the Solvang City Council directed staff to plan for a full reopening of the road by Feb. 1. But during its Jan. 10 meeting, City Council members voted unanimously to extend the closure and continue allowing businesses to use the street for outdoor dining.

The Solvang City Council recently voted to keep Copenhagen Drive closed to vehicles beyond its original reopening date, Feb. 1, and continue allowing businesses to use the street for outdoor dining.

“I know I was one of the ones that said I wanted this by the first of February, but that was before omicron,” Councilmember Jim Thomas said. “I just think it might be good to step back a couple of weeks before we make the final decision on what we’re going to do.

“Plus, I want to hear from these folks,” Thomas added, referring to the long line of community members scheduled to speak during public comment

René Kaerskov, owner of the Danish Mill bakery in Solvang, said that keeping Copenhagen Drive closed to vehicular traffic would mirror the way many popular towns in Denmark “have converted major downtown shopping streets into pedestrian streets.”

ElseMarie Petersen, manager of the Copenhagen House, said she has noticed visitors staying downtown later in the evening, thanks to pedestrians’ ability to roam Copenhagen Drive freely.

“Solvang has—in all the years that I’ve lived here, almost 35 years now—struggled with an empty downtown after 5 to 5:30 p.m.,” Petersen said. “Again and again, we’ve had to hear, ‘This town is dead after 5,’ and, ‘What is there to do?’ Now you see people walking the streets into the evening, and the town is full of life.”

Eric Hutchins, a 10-year resident of Solvang, argued that reopening Copenhagen Drive to vehicles would force restaurants and tasting rooms with on-street seating to either lose revenue or unsafely raise their capacity limits on indoor dining.

“Now is not the time to risk the health and safety of visitors, workers like myself, and business owners by taking away outdoor dining,” Hutchins said. “On the other hand, if the City Council forces businesses to serve inside, in order to keep from going out of business, and someone becomes seriously ill or dies, it is arguable that the council’s actions are the enabling cause of this tragedy?

“I think we have to ask which of the following headlines we would like to see on the front page of the Los Angeles Times: ‘City of Solvang remains open for outdoor dining and wine tasting’ or ‘City of Solvang forces visitors to eat and taste wine indoors while COVID cases continue to rise’?” Hutchins continued.

Before voting to extend the road’s traffic closure indefinitely, City Council members directed staff to work with Copenhagen Drive business owners and research the potential permanent closure.

Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Orona said it will be easier to make a more concrete decision “based on actual data and not just anecdotes.”

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