By Cole Parkinson
As summer draws near, Town of Vauxhall council have brought forward the idea to allow restaurants in town to utilize the sidewalks by placing tables and chairs outside of their buildings.
During their regular meeting on May 15, council was brought up to date on what the process would be for allowing the interested restaurants to place an outdoor addition.
“Mindy (Dunphy, office manager) and I were discussing the whole idea of the sidewalk cafes. We have a couple restaurants in town and I know one restaurant last year asked for permission for Canada Day to utilize the sidewalk to put a couple of tables and chairs out there, just something different for Canada Day. It was accepted well by people who did utilize the outdoors so we’ve talked about this potentially being something that could happen every year for the summer,” said Mayor Margaret Plumtree.
With summer coming, it doesn’t leave the restaurants much time to plan and execute. Council realized interested parties would prefer to get started right away so their decision would need to come fairly quickly, whether that be at the meeting or at a special meeting.
“The only little hiccup is that because we are trying to put it through quickly, it was decided a policy would allow us to put this through quickly, allow us to make any changes and should we want to eventually put it into a bylaw, we could. It would allow the one business who is very interested for this summer to get started right away. It also talks about the retail sales policy so part of the idea is anyone who is downtown who has a storefront, they can put their merchandise on the sidewalk,” added Plumtree.
The area that would be eligible for outdoor retail and sidewalk cafes would be main street from Co-Op to the Canada Post building.
Another stipulation council wanted to make sure was in the policy is a business license would be required.
In regard to what a sidewalk cafe would look like, there was talk of allowing it to be along the parking area in front of the buildings.
“If it’s a restaurant they will need to fence it off. They’re going to leave a little bit of room for this year, we’re not going to build it into the parking space, which was originally the thought. We’re trying to slim it down and make it easier this year so they have to leave enough room on the sidewalk that a wheelchair can get past,” continued Plumtree. “It’s not going to be a lot but it might open up and give them a little bit more seating and for people who like eating outside, it gives them that option.”
Another talking point between the council was the wording around development permits within the policy.
As the summer season additions would be relatively simple, councillors felt a development permit and the fees associated with it would be harsh for what they would be doing.
“A development permit for commercial is some exorbitant fee relative to the size of putting two tables and four chairs on the sidewalk,” said Deputy Mayor Richard Phillips.
Without the development permits though, the business would still need to get permission from council and approval from their neighbours.
“If you want to get rid of the association with the development permit but still retain the fact that obviously it needs to be approved and neighbours need a chance to approve it, why not simply disconnect it from a development permit and say you need a permit for sidewalk cafes or sidewalk sales? A condition of that permit of course would have to get consent,” added Phillips.
Another fold to the policy that was discussed was pop-up shops.
The Town of Vauxhall held their own pop-up shop in March and with the possibility of bringing them back, staff had talked about the potential to have a bylaw or policy in place for that type of store as well.
“Mindy and I were also looking at pop-up shops for downtown. We tried to do the pop-up shops in the arena, in the meeting room once. We’re trying to increase traffic downtown but unfortunately we aren’t ready to present that to council at the moment because we haven’t worked out the logistics. Either it will have to be a separate policy on its own or an amendment later if it is something council is interested in,” said Plumtree.
While the pop-up shop policy was tabled, council went forward with the sidewalk cafe policy.
They eventually decided to make amendments to the policy by changing out the development permits for a $50 fee and also to include that a business license would be required. A motion was made to adopt the policy with amendments and was approved unanimously by council.