The sidewalk patios dotting Victoria’s streets through the pandemic will be around until at least the spring — the city voted Thursday to extend the Business Recovery from Pandemic Bylaw until the end of March.
The bylaw and related Build Back Victoria program, which allowed businesses to temporarily expand their commercial activities into public spaces to meet pandemic-related social distancing requirements, had been due to expire Oct. 31.
The city will be required to inspect patios before occupancy to ensure they’re accessible, clean and neat.
Businesses that have patios or want to extend their patio spaces can expect to face a higher bar under a new city council.
The city is preparing a report, likely due in the new year, that intends to look at many aspects of the bylaw, including times of day and seasons the patios are used and the way they are maintained.
Coun. Geoff Young noted in some cases, patio areas that have been erected have been allowed to deteriorate and are no longer a good use of public space.
He asked staff if there was any way to ensure they will be beneficial to the city.
Philip Bellefontaine, the city’s director of engineering and public works, said staff are working on regulations touching on accessibility, seasonal use and what is reasonable to charge for use in the downtown core versus other areas.
He said staff have noticed several outdoor patio areas that aren’t being used, and will be working with the business owners to determine how best to deal with them, with the anticipation many patios will be removed this fall.
Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe noted that many patios have taken away parking spaces, which she called a detriment to business. “I think that that’s something that needs to be looked at when we look at business recovery,” she said, adding it should be examined before the holiday season.
The bylaw, introduced in June 2020, allowed businesses to temporarily expand their commercial activities into public spaces like parks, sidewalks, streets and boulevards to stay afloat and meet health guidelines during the pandemic.
The program was extended twice to help with economic recovery as the pandemic started to wane and restrictions were relaxed.
Alongside the extension, council streamlined the application process for patios and established a pilot project for a mobile vending business licence.
There are currently 69 permits under the Build Back Victoria program, including 53 for outdoor patios on public and eight for patios on private land.
A city staff report concluded extending the bylaw would allow businesses with permits for patios to continue to operate while a new bylaw with new rules and guidelines is prepared.
Patios not approved by the end of March 2023 through either the current or future bylaw would need to be removed at the cost of the business owner.