The District of Sooke will speed up building permits and liquor license applications for on-street and parking lot patios to give restaurants and pubs struggling because of COVID-19 a boost.
The decision to use public space was initiated by Mayor Maja Tait and approved unanimously by councillors at the May 25 council meeting.
“It’s pretty self-explanatory what COVID-19 is doing to the business world,” Tait said.
The B.C. government announced earlier that restaurants and pubs will be able to welcome customers if they meet physical distancing and hygiene guidelines, which will mean removing tables and serving fewer people than before.
Representatives of B.C. restaurant, food service, bar, craft beer and wine associations appealed to local governments across the province for more flexible rules around patios and outdoor dining to help businesses recover from the financial hit they have taken during the past couple of months.
The groups call for flexibility around the number of patios, types and sizes, expedited permitting, more space for existing patios to spread out seating, allowing temporary or pop-up outdoor spaces for dining or tasting areas, and “parklets” and public space for dining. They also want to include any increase in patio or outdoor space in an establishment’s existing approved alcohol service or tasting area.
The liquor license applications must be approved by both the district and the province, and are only valid until Oct. 31.
So far, one business has asked about the patio expansion plan.
Sooke chief administrative officer Norm McInnis said in addition to business owners using their own property for patio expansion, he expects requests for public property as well. Those include structures on sidewalks and parking lots.
Many municipalities are looking at their options.
Vancouver, Nanaimo, Sidney, Saanich, Langford and Victoria are also creating plans to allow business to temporarily operate on public space as they operate within new social-distancing rules.
The Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce is encouraged by the District of Sooke to follow in the same direction.
“I see it as a very positive thing,” Britt Santowski, the chamber’s executive director, said.
“If restaurants are to survive, we need to see the district rapidly respond to COVID-19-related needs.”