Council not in step over sidewalk patios

Some lively debate perked up proceedings inside Kelowna Council Chambers Monday afternoon.

At issue - sidewalk patios along the revitalized and soon to be revitalized Bernard Avenue.

Much of the discord centered around how much rent should be charged, the length of a free trial period, financial incentives for cash outlay and creativity and whether the discussion was necessary in the first place.

As part of the revitalization project along Kelowna's downtown corridor sidewalks have been widened to make it easier for businesses, especially restaurants and coffee shops, to establish patios outside their establishments.

At the present time, only one business per block is allowed to set up a sidewalk patio.

City Property Manager, Ron Forbes, says new rules would give every business along Bernard the opportunity.

"There are some blocks where you could have seven or eight patios," Forbes told council Monday.

The proposal presented to council included a three-year rate structure which would see businesses offered sidewalk patios free of charge the first year, 50 per cent of the proposed fee in the second year and 100 per cent in the third.

Businesses closer to the lake with a higher traffic volume, would pay more.

Just how much businesses should pay and whether that should be tied to how much thought, creativity and cash is invested, was open for debate.

"I think we should be as pro active as we can to get as many people to do high quality patios - not just cheap ones," says Councillor Andre Blanleil who believes businesses should be encouraged to go after quality in exchange for a break in sidewalk space rental.

"If somebody is going to invest in something really nice why not give them three years rent free. I would rather have something really nice, good tables, good fencing, something that is nicely done than a few dollars extra in rent."

Councillor Robert Hobson agreed incentives should be tied to quality while Mayor Walter Gray suggested businesses who paid more on their patio layout pay less to the city.

"If they decide to put $30,000 into it they should be rewarded differently than somebody that put up a chain link fence and a couple of daffodils or something," stated Gray.

Most on council also felt any fees associated with the program should be in the form of cost recovery and not a tax grab.

"We have to remind ourselves that all of these business people along Bernard Avenue are paying big dollars on a per meter basis just to do what we are doing out there," says Gray.

Grays says those businesses and property owners already have a huge investment into what is going on in front of their stores.

Councillor Luke Stack suggested additional revenues should be reinvested back into the street to enhance it even further.

While councillors kicked around different incentive proposals and subjective quality issues, Gail Given wondered why council was bothering to dicker with a plan worked out by and supported by the Downtown Kelowna Association.

"I am hoping that between the work the staff and DKA did together they actually came up with something they felt was quite appropriate for downtown," says Given.

"I really believe we should carry forward with this as it is and at least see where we're at in maybe two years."

Council agreed to support the policy in principle with a revised fee schedule and refer it back to the DKA.

The new fee schedule agreed to by council would add a second free year to the front of the policy and lengthen the schedule to four years.

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