Posted on 22 February 2012 by Keith Lacey
All the details have yet to be ironed out, but members of Town of Osoyoos council appear strongly in favour of adopting a new bylaw that will allow downtown businesses to sell their goods and services on sidewalks outside their storefront area in an attempt to revitalize the downtown core.
At council’s committee of the whole meeting Monday morning, what started out as a debate on the concept of allowing outdoor seating for sidewalk cafes, expanded into an agreement by councillors to engage in public discussion with downtown business owners and the public at large to discuss allowing businesses to sell their goods and services on sidewalks to try and create a more vibrant downtown area.
“We need to be very proactive with this and start moving fast, even if we take a chance and might get a few things wrong,” said Coun. C.J. Rhodes, who was strongly in favour of council adopting a new bylaw that would allow downtown business owners to use sidewalk space in front of their business to increase traffic.
“Business owners downtown blame us (town council) and no one else for all of their problems and if we don’t do anything it will be like taking gas to an already existing fire.”
Mayor Stu Wells said while it’s obvious the majority of councillors are in favour of allowing outdoor seating cafes along Main Street for this summer, he’s of the opinion any bylaw should be more expansive and allow other businesses the same luxury.
“I don’t think we can single out what businesses get access to this,” he said. “I think we should go downtown and get some feedback from the businesses and see what they want.
“I would really like to engage the downtown business owners … let’s go. Let’s move forward and get something happening.”
Wells said dealing with a complicated issue like this could get bogged down in bureaucratic red tape and that shouldn’t be allowed to happen.
“I agree we can plan this thing into the next century,” he said. “I think maybe it’s time to take some risks and maybe go downtown and ask every single business what they would like to see.”
With the tens of thousands of tourists who visit Osoyoos every spring, summer and fall, Wells said he foresees an exceptionally vibrant downtown core if business owners were allowed to use some of the sidewalk space in front of their businesses and sell their goods and services inside and out.
Phillip Armstrong, town planner, told members of council the concept of outdoor cafes has proven an effective and popular way to create a vibrant downtown in towns across the Okanagan Valley.There are a few downtown eateries that have brought tables and chairs onto the sidewalks outside their businesses over the past few years, but they have never received written consent from the town, he said. Introducing a new bylaw would allow council to draft official policy relating to distances for unobstructed walkways, hours of business, third-party liability and other key issues, he said.
Another option he put before council was to close roads on certain portions of the downtown, as has been done in other towns.
Rhodes reiterated the Town of Osoyoos is a tourist destination and the time has come to introduce policies and procedures that would allow for the downtown area to become unique.
“Our downtown requires uniqueness,” he said. “Things like closing off the roads sounds like a good idea to me. I’m in favour of anything that makes us unique … anything we can do to attract people to our downtown, we (council) should be taking the lead in.”
Coun. Mike Plante said it’s only a matter of time before the current angle parking outside downtown businesses is replaced by parallel parking, which will allow for wider sidewalks and more pedestrian traffic downtown.
“I’m all for parallel parking and putting cafes on our sidewalks,” he said.
Wells recommended councillors hold a public forum allowing business owners to voice their support or objections and, once again, he believes any outdoor shopping bylaw should include all businesses and not just eateries or coffee shops.
“This is not as simple as putting something for sale in front of other peoples’ stores,” he said.
Alain Cunningham, the town’s director of planning and development, suggested council formalize a public process to discuss this issue at its next meeting in two weeks.While there will be some difficult hurdles to overcome in developing an effective bylaw, the status quo isn’t working and it’s time for council to be proactive in trying to revitalize and restore a vibrant downtown, said Wells.
“I think of nothing but the positive and the big picture for the community and the positives for small businesses and downtown revitalization,” he said.
Council agreed to discuss a new bylaw allowing for sidewalk sales for downtown businesses at its next meeting in early March.