City of Vernon councillors will examine the possibility of allowing businesses to expand shop into one public on-street parking space during its meeting May 25, 2020. (File photo)

COVID-19: Vernon council eyes extending patios into parking spots

Downtown businesses could extend shop to accommodate more people while maintaining physical distance

Vernon city councillors are set to examine the possibility of utilizing public parking downtown to allow businesses to create makeshift patio spaces for the summer.

The City of Kelowna is looking at something similar in that, if approved, Bernard Avenue would be closed to vehicle traffic from St. Paul Street to the Sails statue. The road closure would allow restaurants, bars and businesses to use the space as temporary patios, allowing more space to serve more patrons.

During the regular meeting of council Monday, May 25, Vernon councillors will consider allowing businesses within the primary and secondary Business Improvement Areas (BIA) to expand commercial use into one available on-street public parking space adjacent to their shop.

Businesses would be required to leave a minimum two-metre aisle for pedestrian access.

Councillors will also consider reducing the speed limit in the BIAs to 30 km/h. Approximately 90 signs would be required for an estimated cost of $25,000.

City councillors will look to the Downtown Vernon Association (DVA) for recommendations on possibly closing roads to vehicle traffic. The DVA will examine which portions on 30th Avenue, between 29 and 35 streets, should be closed completely, or partially, to traffic.

Businesses with private lots could be able to use up to one-quarter of its off-street parking for additional commercial activity between June 1 and Sept. 30, if council so chooses.

Businesses reopening under the province’s Restart Plan, which is now in its second phase, are to follow several safety protocols to ensure proper physical distancing to curb the spread of COVID-19. For many businesses, this means a reduced maximum capacity, which ultimately affects profit margins.

“It is expected that businesses are looking to expand their spaces where possible to increase occupancy,” a report to council said. “Moreover, it is expected that physical distancing will be a long-term recommendation.”

Several businesses, the DVA and the BC Restaurant Association have requested that council consider something like this, the report to council reads.

In a letter from BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association, president and CEO Ian Tostenson said job losses within the province’s restaurant sector alone are estimated at 121,500. He said more than 50 per cent of smaller independent restaurants reported they will be bankrupt by June.

“Our industry has never before faced a crisis of this magnitude,” Tostenson wrote. “The very survival of our industry’s small businesses and the jobs they create now depend on urgent leadership and bold action from our government partners in communities.”

Locally, the DVA has circulated a survey asking its members about the possibility of closing 30th Avenue and results of this survey are to be reported back to council next month.

If Vernon councillors decide to approve the proposed temporary measures during the regular meeting Monday, May 25, Sidewalk and Boulevard Area Use Permits within the primary and secondary BIAs would be waived until Dec. 31, 2020, and businesses that already purchased permits would be refunded.

READ MORE: Vernon distillery re-purposes local brewery’s leftovers for COVID-19 sanitizer

READ MORE: Further details about Kelowna’s patio expansion proposal revealed


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