Victoria City Council passed a number of motions in response to the COVID-19 crisis on Thursday. (Black Press Media file photo)

Downtown Victoria could become an ‘open-air market’ for the summer

Council explores recovery, resiliency options for city amid COVID-19 crisis

After a more than six hours of discussions about housing, parking and business recovery, Victoria council made several decisions that could change the look and feel of the city this summer.

“Staff will start working right away on options for cafes, options for retailers to sell their goods and services outside and to make all of downtown feel like an open air market for the whole summer,” Helps said during a press conference Friday.

Those changes come mostly from an ‘open air recovery’ motion in support of restaurants and cafes. Council tasked staff with looking at options for permitting patios in public spaces in order to promote economic recovery once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. The motion, which passed unanimously, asks that accessibility, physical distancing and space for pedestrians is considered.

Some of Victoria’s commercial loading zones will be changed to ‘free time limited zones after 4 p.m. and on Sundays, while leaving space for the possibility of seating areas for businesses. Council also passed temporary bylaw adjustments to allow businesses to sell items in front of their shops and set up tables and chairs outside restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries.

Businesses will also be able to use public spaces or squares adjacent to their facility.

The City also introduced a new category of neighbourhood grants called recovery and resiliency, opening June 1. The grants will offer up to $5,000 for recovery, resilience and placemaking projects.

“We hope neighbourhoods around the city will come together and come up with creative projects and submit their applications into the city,” Helps said.

READ ALSO: Victoria City Council votes to ‘pedestrianize’ Beacon Hill Park

The hotly-debated topic of making Beacon Hill Park into a car-free zone was whittled down to a motion that will see the Victoria landmark ‘pedestrianized’ for the rest of the summer, with cars allowed only in parking lots at Heywood Avenue, Circle Drive and Nursery Road, as well as the roads serving as their closest access points.

Helps emphasized that the change still leaves 80 per cent of parking available.

“At the same time, the majority of the park will be open to people walking, rolling and cycling so we can keep those physical distances and keep people safe,” she said.

The motion included a request to consult with accessibility organizations but Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe opposed it with concerns about accessibility. Coun. Marianne Alto also opposed the motion.

The City will also make a request to the province that safe, indoor sheltering options for the region’s unhoused residents become a permanent fixture. The City plans to request transit remain fare-free during the pandemic.

Victoria’s reduced parking fee policy – which reduced rates to $1 per hour and $85 per month in city parkades – was extended until June 15. Free monthly youth transit passes are also now available online ahead of the original September date.

A digital ‘recovery town hall’ will be held in the coming weeks to share more on the initiatives and answer the public’s questions.

READ ALSO: Victoria reduces parking fees during COVID-19 health emergency



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

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