Today’s Poll

Patio season, and parking spot hunting, kick off in Nelson’s downtown

Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
By Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
May 1st, 2024

There will be significantly less parking in the downtown starting this month.

As of May 1 downtown businesses — restaurants and pubs — are able to re-construct seasonal patios and sidewalk cafés, an exercise in utilizing the Kootenay outdoors for another form of recreation since the bylaw was created in 2019.

As a result, 27 parking stalls will disappear and vehicular parking will be replaced with human parking under the Sidewalk Café Bylaw.

“As patio expansions may include the use of an additional on-street parking stall, there is potential for the loss of additional parking stalls in the downtown. This concern was largely disregarded by downtown businesses,” said City director of Development Services, Sebastien Arcand.

However, this time around, several proposed changes last year have been adopted into the bylaw this year, after City council approved them in a meeting on April 23.

In addition to allowing for a sidewalk café to expand onto neighbouring frontage — if a minimum 2.3 metre of clearance is maintained between the patio and the building façade — the bylaw allows for more spatial separation for new sidewalk café of up to 40 centimetres.

Despite the receding impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic — which precipitated the patio expansion — local businesses (restauranteurs and other food and beverage establishments) communicated to City staff that supply chain, staffing, housing and wage complications continue to challenge the economic vitality of Nelson’s downtown.

“The past four seasons of sidewalk café (patio) operations have been very successful in augmenting the vibrancy of downtown and aiding economic success of local businesses,” said Arcand.

He pointed to a 2020 survey showed that the vast majority of respondents generally liked patios in the downtown. For three seasons (2020, 2021 and 2022) council waived fees and amended the Sidewalk Café Bylaw to allow for temporary footprint expansions.

“This was done to enable businesses to maintain service capacity during the pandemic, while also maintaining a thriving and balanced use of public space downtown,” said Arcand.

Post-pandemic, it was intended patios would shrink back to pre-pandemic designs and dimensions in the bylaw.

“However, it has been communicated to staff that expanding the dimensions of patios into an adjacent business frontage and into an adjacent parking stall offers a significant economic boost,” Arcand explained.

Last year two operators expanded their patio frontage to occupy additional parking spaces.

COVID expansion

In 2020, as part of the City’s pandemic recovery efforts, the café bylaw was changed to allow for the patios to expand onto the neighbouring parking stall.

This still required permission from the adjacent business. However, the bylaw had a clause that allowed the director of Development Services to permit this expansion under extraordinary circumstances.

The bylaw wording is now changed in a way to list the criteria to allow for such expansion and remove the discretionary approval clause.

As well, the bylaw prohibits no new combustible gas exterior heaters be installed.

However, a bylaw amendment — slated for March 2025 — will address the use of fossil fuel heaters. Until then, notice will be provided to restaurant owners that fossil fuel heaters will no longer be permitted prior to the 2025 patio season.

Rising real estate

Given recent changes to the parking meter fees, City staff requested that the Fees and Charge Bylaw be amended to ensure that the use of a parking stall for the purpose of a sidewalk café reflect the fees.


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