The City of Nelson is changing its patio policy back to its pre-pandemic rules, despite opposition from some local restaurants.
A patio on only one parking stall will be allowed within the front of a business, with no expansion to adjacent frontages.
The Royal will have its two-stall pandemic patio cut back to one stall this year, but co-owner Marc Forest-Smith says his business needs more time to recover from the pandemic.
“If you don’t have a patio you don’t have a business — you need those outdoor spaces,” he said. “Losing a handful of parking stalls is worth it. Patios are so vibrant and make the downtown walkable and fun, and add so much life to our streets,”
He said the city’s decision to pull back its program of patio extensions was done without engagement with the community.
At a Feb. 14 Nelson City Council meeting, planning director Sebastien Arcand briefed council on the state of bylaws affecting patios in downtown Nelson. Much of the focus was on how many parking stalls his department has decided may be used for patios in 2023.
Before 2020, businesses paid a fee of $300 per parking stall per May 1 to Oct. 31 season.
In 2020 and 2021, city council responded to the pandemic by allowing a patio on more than one parallel parking spot in front of the restaurant if an extra stall existed, and also agreeing to the expansion of parking spots in front of an adjacent building if the neighbouring business agreed. The city waived all fees for patios for those two years.
This was to compensate for the reduction in indoor restaurant seating spaces during the pandemic because of the need for physical distancing.
In 2022 the fees were still waived, but not for expansions into additional stalls or into a neighbour’s frontage, for which a fee was charged. For this year, the fee per parking stall has been restored.
From 2019 to 2022, the number of parking stalls used by patios rose from 17 to 25, Arcand said.
He said that in 2022 only one business, The Royal, fully expanded into an extra parking stall and another, Broken Hill, had a partial expansion.
Broken Hill co-owner Chad Hansen is upset about losing that extension this year.
“The city says they want to go back to pre-pandemic, but the restaurants are not,” he said. “We are still reeling from inflation, food supply issues, costing issues.”
He cited the city’s 2020 public survey in which the public expressed strong support for patios.
At the Main Street Diner, owner Nick Diamond, who extended his patio to the front of Valhalla Pure in 2021, said he did not use the same patio extension last year because he was not sure he would have enough staff. He said that if the city allowed it he would extend again this year (given Valhalla Pure’s agreement), but only if he has enough staff.
Diamond said he is disappointed by the withdrawal of the patio extension program this year and he said the city did not consult businesses first.
Businesses that want the city to make an exception for their specific needs could apply for a variance under the Sidewalk Cafe Bylaw, Arcand said.
During the council discussion, Councillor Rik Logtenberg asked if offering parking spaces for patios is a subsidy to the businesses, given the resulting loss of parking revenue. City manager Kevin Cormack said this is hard to calculate because some parking stalls are used more than others, but that the fee was calculated so that it would be, on average, cost-neutral.