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Move made to help hard hit restaurant and food service industry in the city

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
April 9th, 2021

New strides are being made to help the hard hit food service industry in Nelson.

In response to new provincial restrictions prohibiting indoor dining in all restaurants, pubs and bars, the city has moved ahead with the approval of an amendment to the Fees and Charges Bylaw to encourage additional outdoor seating in the downtown.

Despite the indoor prohibition — due to rising COVID-19 infection rate figures — restaurant operators can still offer outdoor seating under the new province-wide restrictions, as research shows that being outdoors reduces the risk of virus transmission.

City council passed the first three readings and adoption on the amendment to waive fees for setting up outdoor patios.

“The built form in the downtown provides little to no options for restaurants to provide outdoor seating. That is why they require the use of public space (sidewalk, on-street parking and amenity areas) to offer outdoor seating),” said city planner Sebastien Arcand in his report to council.

The waiving of fees was not an exclusive offer to the downtown, said Coun. Keith Page.

“To be clear, this would apply to any restaurant in Nelson, not just the downtown,” he said. “Whatever we can do to get people outside and maintain that vibrancy,” needs to be done.

Mayor John Dooley urged Nelsonites to support the businesses in any way.

“Hopefully, we can do whatever we can within the next three weeks,” he said. “There are a lot of other businesses out there that are struggling as well, so it’s a ripple down effect.”

Coun. Jesse Woodward said it was a great plan A but a plan B was needed if in three weeks it does not clear up with COVID-19 being so wide spread.

“I don’t want to pin all of our hope on three weeks, as we have seen with COVID-19 it can go in strange ways,” he said.

Dooley said the province might have support funding in the works for businesses affected by the new restrictions.

With the province trying to stem the spread of COVID-19 and variants, indoor public gathering spaces came under fire, with the hospitality industry impacted hard again by the latest round of restrictions.

Coun Rik Logtenberg spoke in favour of the city amendment, but voiced concern with the latest provincial lock down measure as it does form the tipping point for a few restaurants in the city.

“My understanding is the margins are that tight between living and dying, so even this, if it helps them get over that hump, we have to do it,” he said.

COVID summer, again

In consultation with various groups in the fall of 2020, the “patio season” was seen as being very successful, said Arcand.

“Retail operators also thought patios were favorable in creating a vibrant downtown which translated in greater pedestrian traffic in front of their businesses,” he said.

Acting on the request by the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce, city staff recommended waiving the fees for the sidewalk café for the 2021 season.

“This will hopefully help all downtown businesses to continue to operate in a safe and efficient manner and ultimately help with their long-term viability,” said Arcand.

Moving it outside

In anticipation of the request to increase outdoor seating for restaurants the province has also provided changes to liquor licensing regulations.

The changes will allow for restaurants to expand outdoor areas but will not increase occupancy.

Cash crunch

In a typical year sidewalk café application fees net the city around $45,000, meaning waiving the fees representing a loss in revenue for the city in 2021.

“However, given the current situation, it is deemed to be a reasonable short-term loss to ensure long term benefits by maintaining a healthy downtown,” said Arcand.

Public notification of the bylaw is not required, said Arcand, since city staff have been in conversations with the business community through the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce.

As well, city council also directed staff to monitor the provincial restrictions after April 19 and provide an update to council to see if further intervention is required.

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