Abbotsford looking to smooth way for more restaurant patios, mayor says

Province announced Friday that it was simplifying the process to apply for liquor licence changes

Mayor Henry Braun says city staff are working to make it easier for restaurants and pubs to serve diners and drinkers outside and comply with physical distancing orders.

But he says other planning measures being considered by some other municipalities – like permitting the consumption of liquor in parks or closing down streets – aren’t yet a priority.

On Friday, the province announced the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch was making it easier for restaurants, wineries, and breweries to apply to serve liquor outside. But those businesses must also comply with rules laid out by municipalities.

Braun said the city is looking at making it “relatively simple” for restaurants to be allowed to use sidewalks, loading spaces, off-street parking areas and even possibly parts of city roads for patio serving.

Such bylaw changes won’t happen right away, though. Council is set to meet Monday, but no amendment is on the agenda. But Braun said city staff are working on the matter.

“We have had requests for patio service area expansions to support re-opening. Our staff have been working on it,” he said Friday. “They will be bringing something forward to council in the very near future.”

In the historic downtown, it might be possible to close down select streets for one or more car-free days, Braun said. But any move involving the closure of streets in the area would involve the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association to ensure the majority of businesses support any changes.

“We haven’t [discussed it] but that’s something that may come out of the discussion when council gets its hands on this report. I could see that, but that’s not something the city’s going to drive. That would be a request that has to come from the ADBA.”

RELATED: Chilliwack city council makes it easier for restaurants to expand patios

Businesses in other parts of the city could also look to serve customers in parking lots. That could also include retailers, but they may also need permission from the city to do so (along with clearance from their actual landlords). Braun said the use of private parking spots at businesses is also likely to be reviewed by staff.

Staff are likely to recommend a temporary amendment that could expire automatically later this year. Council could renew any such amendment, and Braun said some changes could end up sticking around after COVID-19 is but a memory.

“If things work, some of these might become permanent,” he said. “We will have to play this by ear.”

Politicians and citizens in other municipalities have floated a range of other potential changes that could make socializing and exercising safer over the next year. Some municipalities have considered closing down roads to allow for more physically distant cycling and walking, while others have considered easing restrictions on the consumption of alcohol in public spaces. A Vancouver councillor has proposed allowing for “responsible” drinking of liquor at certain public spaces in the city in order to allow for physically distant socializing.

Braun said the city isn’t looking at such changes at the present – in part because the public hasn’t demanded it. He also noted that changes to liquor rules could increase policing and bylaw costs, and that there may not be as much need in Abbotsford, with most people having backyards.

“I’m happy to have the conversation, but I can see for people in Vancouver who are living in condos and apartments, that would be more of an issue here.”

And while the consumption of liquor is prohibited in parks, Braun wryly noted that those rules haven’t kept the city’s parks completely dry.

“Drinking alcohol in parks has been going on for a long time in Abbotsford.”

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