Restaurant owners in White Rock have won over city council in their bid to close one lane of a busy thoroughfare along the city's popular waterfront to make room for more outdoor dining.
The extra patio space on Marine Drive in White Rock is an about-face for city council, which initially balked at the idea, saying it would increase traffic in the area, and make access difficult for emergency vehicles.
Now it says the measure will bolster the businesses hit hard during the pandemic.
Starting Monday, establishments can add tables and seating in a cordoned off section of the westbound lane of Marine Drive between Maple and Vidal streets until all restrictions on indoor dining are lifted by the province.
"COVID life in hospitality has been pretty much a nightmare and this is good," said Jennie Silk, the general manager of Uli's restaurant. "This is going to help us."
Some councillors also said in early May that they were trying to balance helping local businesses with keeping the city's elderly population safe from the coronavirus. Some were worried increased visits to White Rock could result in a increase in COVID-19 cases.
Silk said the public pressure on council from businesses and residents to allow the expanded space is what pushed councillors to change their minds.
"Honestly I think it was public pressure," she said. "So we had a lot of people on our side."
In a release from the city, Mayor Darryl Walker said the change was needed to support local businesses, which have struggled.
"Businesses on Marine Drive, including restaurants, have suffered financially during the pandemic, and are struggling to pay rent and to pay their employees," he said. "These are our neighbours, our friends."
From seven tables to 15
Silk said her restaurant has in the past employed 58 people. During the pandemic that number dropped to three people at times. During the circuit-breaker measures when indoor dining was completely banned, the restaurant operated seven tables outside.
Now with the space on Marine Drive, it can add a further eight tables for a total of 15.
"I'm really glad this has happened. It should have happened a long time ago," she said.
The City of White Rock has dedicated a page on its website to how the westbound lane closure will affect local residents and traffic, including how emergency vehicles will still be able to access the area.
Eastbound travel only is permitted on Marine Drive from Vidal Street to Maple Street — a distance of about 1.6 kilometres
A detour exists from Maple Street to Victoria Avenue and Columbia Avenue, or via Stayte Road and more northerly east/west streets.
The westbound lane on Marine Drive will have traffic barriers separating pedestrians and diners from motorists.
Walker said the city will work to minimize the impact of the closure on local residents.
The city says the closure will be in place at least until the province completely lifts all restrictions on indoor dining.
Indoor dining is currently allowed with capacity limits based on physical distancing requirements and other rules, including a maximum of six people per table.
The earliest most COVID-19 restrictions could be lifted is Sept. 7.
The city says installation is expected to cost $50,000, with rental costs of about $40,000 a month.
The city is using a provincial restart grant to cover the costs.