Curb-side parklets, such as this one created on Commercial Street in 2015, will allow restaurants to expand their seating capacity while meeting provincial COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. Nanaimo city council voted unanimously Monday to allow temporary service area expansions, primarily into parklets that will by built by city staff. (News Bulletin file photo)

COVID-19 brings curbside ‘parklet’ patios back to downtown Nanaimo

Nanaimo city council votes for restaurant service area expansions to meet social distancing measures

Expect to see curbside patio service at restaurants in downtown Nanaimo, the Old City Quarter and elsewhere in the city through the summer and into the fall.

Nanaimo city council voted unanimously at Monday’s meeting to allow patio expansions into city parking spaces to help restaurants gain back some of the seating space lost in complying with COVID-19 social distancing precautions.

Dale Lindsay, city general manager of development services, said the proposal would essentially create “more patio spaces in the downtown.”

Staff’s recommendation was for council to direct staff to go ahead and allow for restaurant patio expansions, a temporary program, and to allocate $25,000 from the event grants budget, since most events that would normally receive grants have been cancelled anyway, to help finance the project.

Restaurants would be allowed to lease additional street or sidewalk space from the city for the next two years, which would allow the city to recover some of the money allocated to get program running.

The patio expansions or parklets will be built to a standard model by city staff, Lindsay said, so that businesses don’t need to design and submit plans for city approval, allowing the program to start right away.

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong recommended extending the program to all restaurants in Nanaimo after she received correspondence from restaurant operators who complained only allowing expansions downtown could give downtown restaurants an unfair advantage.

“I think if we’re going to do it in the downtown core we should also be looking at doing it for the ones up in the Country Club area, the north end, all over the city because the city doesn’t revolve just around the downtown,” Armstrong said. “We have to be fair to all businesses.”

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said he sees downtown parklets as a potential first step to a program that could be extended across the city.

“I think it’s fair to say we’re all very conscious of the fact that we’d be hard-pressed to think of any aspect of our economy that has been more damaged than our hospitality industry,” Krog said. “So this is a very positive step, not just for the downtown, but as a signal to the whole business community that we understand the pain and suffering that they’re undergoing and the employees who have been without work now, many of them for a couple of months, and what this means to them.”

Council, responding to a letter from the B.C. Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, also voted unanimously to suspend the city’s current approval processes for expanded liquor service area authorization, which will eliminate a layer of bureaucracy for businesses, such as wineries, breweries, distilleries and restaurants to apply to LCRB for authorization to temporarily expand service areas until Oct. 31.

“The Nanaimo chamber is proud to have played a role in arranging for the expansion of patios for downtown restaurants,” said Kim Smythe, CEO Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce,” in an e-mailed statement to the News Bulletin. “We’re especially pleased with the speed at which this was achieved … Within a week council was ready to vote and support this action to help make downtown restaurants more viable and bring business back to downtown as part of the recovery process.”

Council also approved a last-minute motion by Coun. Tyler Brown to allow businesses operating on private property to temporarily expand their service areas into parking lot spaces in order to meet COVID-19 social distancing guidelines for retail businesses. There is no existing city regulation that currently prevents that, but Brown said adopting the motion would clarify the city’s position.

“I never like motions on the fly, but having said that … I can think of Midland Tools, liquidators, for instance, who already use part of their parking lot on a regular basis, which as you know is a choice a business can make,” Krog said. “If you limit your parking, perhaps you limit your customers, but it also allows customers to see the goods you have to merchandise.”

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