Sechelt businesses will have another chance to build patios or sell their merchandise on public streets and sidewalks for another season after council approved extending the pilot program until Oct. 31, 2021 – even though no businesses secured a licence.
About five businesses participated in “some manner,” said a Dec. 2 staff report reviewing the pilot and recommending a second year, and while staff assisted with inquiries, none completed the process.
The Sechelt Downtown Business Association did secure a licence and built a public-use patio on Cowrie Street.
Several other businesses extended into outdoor spaces but were on private property so didn’t need a licence.
The program, which launched in June, allowed businesses in the downtown core, Porpoise Bay and Davis Bay to apply for a “licence to occupy” from the district, granting them the ability to extend onto Sechelt sidewalks and streets to allow for physical distancing during the pandemic and “and to inject vitality into our streetscapes,” according to a staff report.
Staff acknowledged the tight timeframe of the original pilot – from June until the end of October – meant many businesses simply couldn’t justify the expense of a temporary patio.
A couple of complaints were received by the district, according to staff – one about inadequate physical distancing and another about parking inconvenience. Many letters expressed support, including some asking for a pedestrian-only Cowrie Street.
Despite the limited uptake, councillors spoke favourably about the street patios pilot program at the Dec. 2 council meeting where the extension received unanimous approval, and some inquired about whether it could be permanent.
Coun. Tom Lamb said it was great they could approve the program extension earlier than last year, to give businesses time to plan and invest.
Lamb also asked whether it could be a longer-term program.
Planning director Andrew Allen said while staff had recommended extending it by one year, they had also seriously considered recommending a permanent option and “there would be potential to move it on to longer term.” By keeping it to a year they could get more feedback and re-evaluate in about 10 months.
The report said currently the licence is free but there could be potential to charge once the pandemic is over.
There’s no question the outdoor use of space “adds more vibrancy to our community and is something we can strive towards,” said Allen.
He also noted, after Coun. Alton Toth asked if there were any strategic advantages to going permanent, the province had opted to stick to a one-year extension of its program to fast-track applications from businesses that sell food and drink primarily to expand their service areas.
Mayor Darnelda Siegers said she was in favour of the one-year extension “with a view to having it go permanent,” and noted if they went long term they’d have to change some bylaws, while the province would have to work out capacity issues with restaurants and liquor primary establishments.
Siegers also asked if approved businesses could install patios now. Allen said yes. “There may be some businesses that could benefit from off-season use,” he said.