White Rock council’s decision to turn Marine Drive into a one-way route has the potential to hurt some restaurants more than it benefits them, with the outcome hinging on the province’s next move.
On May 10, council voted to turn Marine Drive into a one-way route until the end of September. The intent was to give restaurants space to build temporary patios for the peak summer months.
However, a last-minute amendment approved May 31, one week before the westbound lane was closed, adjusted the length of time the initiative is to run. With the amendment, the lane closure is scheduled to remain in place only until provincial health authorities allow full-capacity indoor dining.
The amendment is troubling to some restaurant owners, including one who spent thousands of dollars to build a temporary patio with the expectation the closure would last until late September. The new amendment could kibosh the one-way experiment within a few weeks.
As of Tuesday, nobody – not even the provincial government– could say when full-capacity indoor dining will resume. However, B.C.’s Restart Plan indicates full indoor dining could resume as early as Canada Day, depending on case counts, vaccination rates and hospitalizations.
July 1, which is the anticipated start of Step 3 in the restart plan, removes group limits for indoor dining and lifts liquor service restrictions. Step 3 is also when masks are no longer mandatory, the provincial state of emergency and public health emergency is lifted, and people can expect a return to “usual” indoor and outdoor personal gatherings. Bingo halls, casinos and nightclubs can also operate, but with limited capacity.
Step 4 of the restart plan, which could begin as early as Sept. 7, is more or less a return to normal.
Contacted this week, the Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation told Peace Arch News that they don’t know, at this time, if restaurants will go back to full capacity come Step 3.
“Government is working collaboratively with sector associations, public health professionals and WorkSafeBC to develop updated sector safety guidelines, in alignment with the direction of the PHO, for the move to Step 3,” the ministry emailed PAN.
“Updates on rules and guidelines in Step 3 will be shared when they are available.”
Uli’s Restaurant owner Tyson Blume, who built a deck in front of his restaurant with tables and dividers, said he spent $10,000 on the temporary patio on the understanding that it’ll be allowed until the end of September, which was council’s original plan.
“When they made that amendment…at that point, I was already in the process of sourcing lumber… getting tables built, getting dividers built,” Blume said.
In addition to the money spent, Blume said he’s put up to 80 hours into planning, building, seeking approvals, training and hiring staff.
“All of those costs are OK, but it’s based on going until (September)… at the very least end of August. And if they just flip the switch in three weeks and say it’s over. I’m super screwed, financially speaking,” Blume said.
While it could very well turn out that full capacity indoor dining isn’t allowed until Step 4 (Sept. 7), the possibility is present that it could be Step 3.
“That’s the scary part,” Blume said.
Coun. Anthony Manning, who brought forward the amendment, told council that if full indoor dining returns in mid-July, and White Rock keeps Marine Drive one-way until end of September, waterfront restaurants could potentially operate at 125 to 150 per cent capacity.
“Which is not fair to the other businesses, or the other restaurants in White Rock,” Manning told council.
Another reason for the amendment, Manning told PAN, was to address concerns voiced by residents in the area.
Council passed the amendment 5-2 with Couns. Erika Johanson and Scott Kristjanson opposed.
Kristjanson told PAN he didn’t support the amendment because restaurants need stability and predictability.
“To invest $10,000 and then to have it taken away in the first month, it’s not like you’re going to recoup those costs,” Kristjanson said.
However, Kristjanson said he would be “shocked” if full capacity indoor dining resumed July 1.
White Rock Business Improvement Association executive director Alex Nixon also said he would be surprised if 100 per cent capacity resumed July 1.
“I’m anticipating probably more like September 7 is when things are going to open up again,” Nixon said.
Speaking to the removal of group limits in Step 3, Nixon said the province has been “delightfully unclear” about what’s being allowed.
“With the group limit, are they talking about multiple households? Because that’s one of the restrictions. I think that’s where they’re coming from because they’re still requiring limited capacity for other indoor areas, like bingo halls,” Nixon said.
Nixon said the BIA’s messaging to its members is to use this time to maximize revenues.
“We’re working with the city to minimize the requirements and the city has been really good about that. They’re having to look at their permitting process on the fly and they’re doing a great job of that, they’re making adjustments,” Nixon said.
“We want people to do this with a minimal amount of expense. In some cases that might not be possible, in some cases businesses might not want to take that route.”
Blume told PAN part of his motivation of building a complete roadside patio experience was to give the public an opportunity to see what it could look like if one-way traffic on Marine Drive was a more long-term decision, or something that could happen repeatedly.