The City of Whitehorse will not be making any changes to allow outdoor patios in on-street parking spots.
The decision by Whitehorse city council came following a report presented by planning manager Mélodie Simard at its July 13 meeting. It outlined a long list of bylaw changes that would be required to allow patios in city parking spots.
As many council members pointed out, even if the city went ahead to make the changes happen, it would be Aug. 10 at the earliest that bylaw changes could be approved. After that any restaurants and bars looking to use the on-street parking spaces would have to go through the permitting process and make any adjustments needed to their operations.
“I just see this as late,” Coun. Laura Cabott said, noting that while she supports allowing for summer time patios, this would take a lot of work and would not be an efficient use of staff time, given that the changes would not come into effect until the end of the season.
Cabot said that if the changes had come a month earlier she would have likely supported moving ahead with it, but at this point it’s too late for the 2020 season.
The report came forward after two restaurants made submissions at council’s June 1 meeting asking that council make changes to allow for additional patio space.
They argued given the restrictions on local eating establishments due to COVID-19 (at that time restaurants could operate at 50 per cent capacity; that is now up to full capacity provided distancing measures are met), more possibilities for outdoor patio space should be considered.
While it was noted there are permits available for sidewalk cafes and private parking lot space to be used for patios, council asked staff to look at other possibilities that would help eating and drinking establishments struggling this year due to the pandemic.
At council’s July 13 meeting, director of development services Mike Gau highlighted the changes needed would require efforts by multiple departments dealing with bylaws and regulations.
Allowing patios in parking spaces on streets, for example, would require amendments to the special events road closure bylaw to redesign road space into sidewalk space and to allow for partial closure of the space for longer than a week.
“Under the Motor Vehicles Act, section 206, sales are prohibited on highways, which includes roads and streets,” it’s stated in the report. “Parking spaces are considered to be part of highways. Sales are, however, allowed on sidewalks.
“As this initiative would transfer liability from the Motor Vehicles Act to the city, the city would need to require the proponent’s insurance to additionally cover the city.”
Criteria for a patio application would also have to be added to the bylaw that would outline rules to address maintaining access for emergency vehicles, pedestrian movement, utility access, barrier requirements to separate the street and patios, sightlines for driveway access, maintaining space for vehicles to drive on the street and the authority to approve requests.
Also addressed in the report were requests to waive fees associated with permits for patios. Officials said suspending the fees would be have to be dealt with as amendments to the fees and charges bylaw.
If council wanted administration to pursue the changes, members could pass a motion giving staff that direction, Simard said.
A number of council members stated their view it was too late to do so this year with some also expressing hope it may be considered in future years.
“I really see this as a long-term plan,” Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu said.
Coun. Steve Roddick argued, however, there were good reasons to pursue the possibility now.
“We have an opportunity to be innovative,” he said, arguing by moving forward now the city could use the end of this season to look at how it may work in future years.
Meanwhile, Mayor Dan Curtis pointed out there are processes in place that allow for patios on sidewalks and in off-street parking spaces.
He was also vocal with concerns over more people coming into the territory and what he sees as some residents becoming more lax over COVID regulations.
“Our bubble has been popped,” he said, adding that even if the city had time to work on it, he would still have concerns.
Roddick countered the mayor’s comments by arguing public health officials should be trusted with the reopening plans.
If people are afraid to go out and support local businesses, that will not move the city forward, he said.
While he acknowledged his fellow council members were not wanting to move ahead with the proposal, he also said he hopes it’s not the last time it’s considered because it could be a good idea regardless.
“We’ll have time in the fall and winter (to consider the possibility),” he said.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org