Victoria considers permanently expanding patio spaces for businesses

An expanded patio space on a downtown Victoria street is shown: (CTV News)

In a first step to make street patios created during the pandemic an ongoing fixture in Victoria, council voted to make the closures in the 1300-block of Gladstone Avenue permanent.

In summer 2020, the City of Victoria enacted an emergency bylaw allowing restaurants and businesses to expand their premises onto city streets. The bylaw was enacted to accommodate physical distancing measures due to the pandemic.

"The patio over the last year and a half has been an absolute life-saver for our business," said Fernwood Inn owner and operator Michael Colwill.

"It allowed us to get some great sales through the summer and it allowed us to hire basically our full staff back sooner."

For the past few months, Colwill and other businesses in the Fernwood Village neighbourhood have been working with Victoria Coun. Shamarke Dubow to make the patios permanent.

On July 8, Dubow brought a motion before Victoria council "to identify processes for facilitating permanent closures of travel lanes and/or full roadways to facilitate increased public space, and/or zones for permitted commercial use, beginning with 1300-block on Gladstone from Fernwood Street to Stanley Avenue as pilot program."

Colwill says it's the first step in the right direction.

"That’s where we are now, they’ve acknowledged that they want us to be able to keep the patios," he said. "They need to create a framework that can be used across the city."

The emergency bylaw was enacted under the Build Back Victoria patio program and the bylaw is set to expire on Oct. 31, 2021. Under the new motion, council hopes to extend and optimize the Build Back Victoria patio program as a 2021 Strategic Plan action item and "make the Build Back Victoria patio program permanent" as a 2022 Strategic plan action item.

Colwill says the patios provided a huge boost to his and other businesses in Fernwood Village while they were coping with the challenges of the pandemic.

"It allowed the businesses to recuperate and dig ourselves out of these big holes that COVID has put us all in," said Colwill. "It has created this vibrancy and sense of community within the village that has never been here before."

Council has also asked staff to find out how the city can work with businesses to make the more than 100 patios permanent once the pandemic is over.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps says she expects staff will recommend that the current bylaw permitting "pandemic patios" be extended until June 2022.