At its Nov. 9 meeting, Nelson city council gave four restaurants permission to run outdoor patios through the winter in response to the pandemic.
The city had reached out to all patio owners in the city in preparation for this discussion, asking if they wished to apply for winter status, and got four expressions of interest.
The requests by Backroads Brewing, Pitchfork and Rel-ish were approved because they do not take up any parking spaces and won’t hamper snow removal.
The application by Main Street Diner was discussed at some length because the patio is on the street, takes up parking spaces and would potentially cause problems for snow removal crews.
However, the barriers at the Main Street Diner are made of concrete blocks, which the restaurant usually removes in the off-season. Council concluded that snow removal crews could easily clear around the barrier because it is so solid, unlike some summer on-street patios that are wooden structures.
Councillor Brittny Anderson proposed that Main Street Diner’s application be approved as a pilot for “a business that has been around for a really long time” and Councillor Cal Renwick supported her.
“I would just like to see us work with them and do what we can to to help them out in this situation,” Renwick said.
Council then voted in favour of Main Street Diner’s application.
Leading up to the decision, city staff had identified these winter patio issues and requirements:
• Roof structures must be designed to manage snow loads.
• Sidewalk cafes must not be enclosed, because then they become buildings and are subject to the building code.
• Heat sources must be properly vented.
• Gas lines running over public property for heaters would need separate approvals.
• Additional work will be required to remove snow.
• Gas or propane heaters, because they are in effect heating the outdoors, emit a significant amount of CO2. According to city council meeting materials referencing a CBC article, experts have estimated that “a 75 m2 terrace, heated with gas November to March, emits as much CO2 as a car circling the earth three times.”
Councillor Keith Page suggested that sidewalk cafes be given a preferred rate on fees if they use electric rather than gas heating.
Councillor Rik Logtenberg supported Page’s concern.
“This is not an idle consideration,” Logtenberg said. “The amount of emissions that come from this is really significant, surprising.”
City manager Kevin Cormack said the process of changing the amounts of fees is procedurally complicated but this could be a long-term goal, and Mayor John Dooley agreed.
“With COVID and everything else,” Dooley said, “some people have invested in the infrastructure, and it would be unreasonable at this point in time to force them into it. We could have it phased in.”
Earlier in the year the city waived patio fees for 2020 as part of its pandemic recovery plan, and that waiver will continue until the new year when council will revisit it.
Nick Diamond, manager of Main Street Diner, in an interview after the meeting, told the Nelson Star he was grateful for council’s decision.
“I think people will be looking for something to do this winter after they finish skiing and I’m glad to offer them the opportunity to eat in the open air 12 months a year,” he said. “I proposed this to the public in our social media channels and there was a tremendous amount of support in favour of this.”