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City rolling out the welcome mat for sidewalk cafés

The City of Penticton is looking to change the way Main Street businesses are allowed to design and operate sidewalk cafés.

City council voted unanimously Monday to have the municipality elicit input from both the city’s business owners and residents, as well as the Downtown Penticton and Front Street Associations, regarding a list of potential changes that for the most part would make it easier for entrepreneurs to operate the cafés.

According to city director of operations Mitch Moroziuk, there are two categories of cafés: ones that take up less space and are allowed year-round; and the larger ones that use up the entire sidewalk width, pushing the sidewalk out into the street, eliminating parking space.

The second category currently must be removed in the wintertime, however, staff recommend changing that.

“One, it will eliminate the cost of removing them and installing them every year,” explained Moroziuk. “Secondly, it will also provide the opportunity for those businesses that have them to utilize them during the wintertime.”

Another proposed change would have the structures built out of more durable materials.

“(It) was brought up that when we do go out into the parking area, we go out by putting in boardwalk for the most part, and it was felt that that boardwalk could be a hazard,” he said. “We want to say that the guard-rails have to be steel and the piece that goes into the parking area to be made out of concrete as opposed to boardwalk.”

Another issue, Moroziuk said, was whether the amount of space provided for pedestrians is always adequate.

“(We should make) sure that there is sufficient space between the railings that are put up and things like light standards, garbage cans or anything else that might be on the street,” he said.

“We also included a set design for what the railings look like and for what the concrete looks like to basically maintain consistency, so when you walk down Main Street it would have a uniformed look to it.”

Cafés built after Jan.1 2010 would be grandfathered until 2013, Moroziuk suggested. He also recommended that the structures be built by city forces with fees established to pay for the work in order to “ensure consistency in terms of how they are built and what they look like.”

However, most on council did not seem to like that idea.

“I would say that in most cases (using city labourers) would be about 50 per cent more expensive than what the private sector can do, and for that reason I think that should be changed so that people can either do it with the city or with a private contractor,” said Coun. John Vassilaki.

Coun. Dan Albas said that as long as the sidewalk cafés met safety standards, he would also like the city to give merchants the freedom to design their structures to match their businesses.

“I actually enjoy a downtown that is vibrant. I enjoy a downtown that has its own unique character. Each block should reflect the flavour of the businesses that are there,” said Albas. “I think that kind of diversity should be welcomed.”

Only Coun. Garry Litke argued for more city control of both the design and construction of the structures.

“One of the city’s responsibilities is to build streets, sidewalks and gutters, and sometimes that work gets done by other companies. But if you look around Penticton, our sidewalks are built to a particular standard and are built the same wherever you go,” he said.

“So I have to disagree with the notion that (the city) simply make a drawing and hand it over to the business saying, ‘Now, you build your sidewalks around your sidewalk café according to the way you want it to be.’ I think it is our responsibility to create the standard.”

The deadline for input on the matter is Feb. 28.

city@pentictonwesternnews.com

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