Cranbrook city council discussed easing patio bylaw regulations, among other topics, during a special meeting on Wednesday evening, in response to the three-week "circuit breaker" restrictions announced by the Province. Photo courtesy City of Cranbrook.

Cranbrook tweaking outdoor patio regulations amid ‘circuit breaker’ restrictions

Cranbrook city council is moving towards amending a seasonal patio bylaw that eases regulations in response to local restaurants being further challenged by new provincial restrictions banning indoor dining due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Eased regulations include temporarily waiving certain fees and clarifying language on patio specifications on sidewalks or parking stalls. While council gave three readings to the amendments during a meeting on Wednesday at city hall, another meeting is required to adopt the changes.

Additionally, council also gave approval to Temporary Expanded Service Area provisions, a time-limited measure first enacted one year ago by provincial liquor regulators, however, due to the ongoing nature of the pandemic, was extended to Oct. 31, 2021.

The TESA provisions only apply to businesses that have an existing liquor license.

Mark Fercho, the Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Cranbrook, led the discussions after a frenetic few days of work from staff to iron out regulatory details.

Baker Street was the main topic, with suggestions to shift the traffic lines a few feet to the north, in order to add more sspace on the southern side of the road, where there are more restaurants and cafes.

Outside of Baker Street, the proposed bylaw changes also allow for patios in parking stalls on the avenues that funnel into the downtown core.

For restaurant areas that aren’t downtown, city council also passed a resolution permitting the utilization of private parking lots for seasonal patios.

Fercho cited the example of Mr. Mikes on Cranbrook St., which approached city staff about the possibility of repurposing a portion of it’s private parking lot for outdoor dining.

Fercho drew on the experiences he had in Jasper, which has a vibrant outdoor seasonal patio atmosphere on busy streets or quieter avenues and a community where he previously served as the top administration official.

While some restaurants had patios on sidewalks, others had structures built in storefront parking stalls, however, those can come with higher material costs to build.

Using removable concrete barriers to shield and protect diners enjoying a meal while keeping traffic flow moving proved to be a popular option with local businesses.

“People don’t mind sitting right up where the cars are going by because you’re comfortable and tucked behind that piece of concrete and it’s quite a nice experience and it became really popular to do that,” Fercho said.

Additionally, in Jasper, some patios were extended into parking stalls of adjacent shops, with their permission.

The end result was an environment that drew people to the area for food and beverage service, with a resulting economic spinoff for other restaurants and retailers, as more pedestrian traffic flow came through certain neighbourhoods.

“What ended up happening, is that this became so popular last summer, that there was a lineup pretty much all summer long for those tables,” said Fercho, “and the retail shops in that area…they had one of their banner years ever because there’d be so many people driving through and they saw all this activity and they wanted to go there and have a beer or have a hamburger and look at the mountains and be part of that outdoor experience.”

Wednesday’s special council meeting also included representatives and feedback from the Downtown Business Association and the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce.

Councillor Wayne Price also suggested a motion to waive parking metre fees for the three-week period of the circuit breaker restrictions, however, it was defeated based on concerns that waiving fees would lead to permanently parked vehicles that wouldn’t move.

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