A Sidney staff report identifies the south side of Beacon Avenue east of Second Street as a pinch point that may begin repurposing of two or more on-street parking spaces for pedestrian and outdoor commercial uses. Council Monday will consider a staff report on balancing growing demand for outdoor seating with public health needs. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

COVID-19: Island towns opening sidewalks and parking lots for business use

As B.C. enters Phase 2, businesses start to reopen using social distancing protocols

Vancouver Island communities are looking at helping struggling businesses by allowing them to move outdoors.

Parksville city council is looking at helping businesses in the same way its counterparts in Qualicum Beach decided to last week: by letting them use streets and sidewalks.

It’s a move other municipalities have looked into as well, as British Columbia moves into Phase 2 of its COVID-19 restart plant, which includes the reopening of businesses.

Shops and restaurants have had to come up with a plan to reopen safely with help from WorkSafeBC, which includes having fewer people than usual in shops and restaurants.

READ MORE: COVID-19: Qualicum Beach council to look at how businesses can utilize street space

READ MORE: COVID-19: B.C. restaurants can host dine-in guests again, but what will that look like?

In Parksville, authority would be delegated to the corporate officer, allowing staff to approve applications to expand business onto sidewalks and into parking areas.

Its motion reads: “THAT in response to COVID-19, staff be directed to implement a process whereby the Mayor and Corporate Officer may issue licences of occupation to permit local businesses to utilize public sidewalk spaces and public parking areas for the purpose of additional seating or safe queuing. 2. THAT business owners be permitted to use their onsite private parking to expand their seating without triggering requirements for City permits.”

“If it’s on your property, go for it,” Mayor Ed Mayne said. “If you want to sacrifice two or three parking spots on your property so that you can expand a patio, go for it, I think it’s the right thing for you to do as long as its safe – we don’t need to be involved with it at all.”

Sidney is making similar allowances for restaurants and cafes.

Alison Verhagen, Sidney’s senior manager for planning and recovery, said the move would allow food service businesses with off-street parking spaces to repurpose some of those spaces for outdoor tables and chairs as commercial life resumes following the lifting of some restrictions by the provincial government.

“Not all downtown restaurants and cafes have off-street parking spaces but some do, and this change may alleviate some demands for use of public space,” she said, adding that the change could happen in a single council meeting because no public hearing would be required.

The report also recommends that Sidney allow sidewalk café areas to expand beyond sidewalk edges into the streets.

“This change would give staff the option to issue a license that allows tables, chairs, umbrellas, screens and portable planters in a repurposed on-street parking space,” she said.

The report also recommends staff monitor what it calls “pedestrian levels, lineups for commercial businesses and demand for outdoor seating for food vending businesses” in addressing “pinch points as they arise. Sidney could achieve this goal by repurposing on-street parking spaces as protected pedestrian spaces or outdoor seating areas with the expectation that staff would report back if it became necessary to close streets or re-purpose entire blocks of on-street parking.

cloe.logan@pqbnews.com

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