The idea of establishing Victoria as a city of patios and outdoor living was given a shot in the arm on Thursday as the City of Victoria voted to extend until next fall the bylaw allowing businesses to use streets and other outdoor spaces to establish commercial space.
The city intends to amend the Business Recovery from Pandemic Bylaw to keep it in force until Oct. 31, 2022. It was to expire at the end of this month. All existing permit holders are to be rolled over until Oct. 31, 2022, while applications connected to a liquor licence will only be considered until the end of this month.
In extending the bylaw and looking ahead into a transition period post-pandemic, the city intends to take into account some of the lessons learned through the process, including dealing with issues around accessibility, finding a balance in the use of public space and ensuring there are adequate staff resources to handle the program.
The program was initially designed to find a balance between spurring on economic recovery and protecting community health. What it did was sustain the life of the city centre.
“During the pandemic, at the beginning, patios were a lifeline for restaurants and lounges and pubs, it allowed them to keep going to keep staff working, it was really important,” said Jeff Bray, chief executive of the Downtown Victoria Business Association.
“It was also a reason for people to come downtown, so that benefited other businesses.”
A city staff report said that at its height there were more than 150 businesses taking advantage of the opportunity to set up outdoor seats, and use loading zones for customers to pick up goods they had bought.
There are currently 95 active permits for mobile vending, flex zones, loading zones, as well as outdoor patios on both public and private land.
Bray said if there is a silver lining for Victoria during the pandemic it could be the establishment of a patio culture.
“People really enjoyed them,” he said. “We are very supportive of the extension and our strong desire is to see the city move to a permanent permitting process for these to be built and become permanent structures.”
In a report provided to council Thursday, staff noted the Build Back Victoria Program and the Business Recovery from Pandemic Bylaw played an important role in supporting local economic recovery and contributing to an active and vibrant downtown core and village centres.