At Tuesday night’s regular council meeting City staff made four recommendations to council that would relax certain permit and bylaw requirements, in order to help the local business community get back on their feet in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Planning and Development Services Manager Don McArthur gave a presentation to council regarding the recommendations and the benefits they would provide to local businesses. The recommendations, which were passed unanimously by mayor and council were:

  • That council temporarily waive the development permit application fee and requirement to submit professional design drawings for commercial patio construction for restaurants and bars
  • That council temporarily waive the sign permit application fee and requirement to submit a colour rendering for sign installation
  • That council temporarily waive the development permit application fee for commercial façade improvements, and,
  • That council temporarily enable retail businesses to apply for approval of outdoor display of goods which do not conform to the business licence bylaw regulations, subject to approval by the Planning and Development Manager.

Earlier this month a taskforce was created involving business owners, business support groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, members of city staff and council. The taskforce came up with a list of initiatives that could be implemented in order to help businesses restart the local economy. The ideas put forward by the taskforce led to the City’s proposed relaxation of permit requirements and bylaw stipulations.

The taskforce also proposed downtown beautifications such as sidewalk and street painting and new murals, identifying several potential locations such as Voght and Mamette, Voght and Granite, Granite and Garcia as well as Quilchena Ave. where a weekly lunchtime closure of the street has also been suggested to encourage foot traffic.

“The idea behind beautifying the downtown specifically is to try to create a more vibrant space for locals and visitors,” explained McArthur.

“Businesses are going to be consulted in the coming days and weeks in regard to these initiatives. Councillor Fehr and councillor Luck have both volunteered with approaching businesses on this. We want to make sure that there is buy in and that the business community itself is behind these initiatives.”

With businesses locally having been hit hard by the pandemic and subsequent closures and loss of revenue, the hope is that waiving development and application fees as well as other associated costs will give businesses a chance to reopen and potentially expand more easily, particularly restaurants, eateries and bars by utilizing outdoor space.

Normally, in order to add patio space a business would have to apply for a development permit, which costs $750. Required professional drawings then range anywhere from $500-$5000 depending on the complexity of the design. Patios will either use street parking spaces, or private parking lots.

“Street space we would want to make sure of course that they’re safe so we’ve been working internally on different ideas around barricades and the like to ensure that there’s a separation between vehicle lane traffic and actual patio space,” said McArthur.

“In regard to parking lot spaces we are looking at having a relaxation of parking. So, the capacity or the amount of parking that is required for a business is related to the capacity of the restaurant or bar, so if they have a reduced ability to serve people inside, by extension we could look at the possibility of reducing the number of parking spaces they require and instead use those for patio spaces.”

The development permit application fee for commercial façade improvements is also $750, and the current fee for a sign permit is $50 and $6 for every $1000 of construction value, as well as the cost of the coloured rendering, the need for which will be temporarily waived.

The business licence bylaw currently allows for a one metre space in front of businesses to display goods, but some businesses have indicated they would like to display goods on the street if there is a street closure such as on Quilchena, and to use parallel parking spaces for outdoor display of goods.

“This would be particularly helpful for small businesses where they have limited space indoors and aren’t able to respect the physical distancing requirements within their indoor space,” said McArthur.

“By bringing some of that merchandise outdoors, they may be able to do that.”

About the changes, which will only be applicable until the end of this year, Councillor Tony Luck had this to say: “I fully support these, this is what we’ve been needing downtown, to bring that vibrancy and excitement back.”

“It took a pandemic to do this, but this is fantastic, looking towards helping businesses re-establish and build up after so many of them have had to shut down. This is some great incentive for them to expand their business, and I hope many take advantage of some of these things and really bring some vibrancy to our downtown. This will be really good for local citizens, especially with the shop local program we just talked about earlier, as well as incentive for people to come to Merritt. We’re open for business and we’re excited about the future. Even though we’re hunkered down a little bit right now, we’re really excited about the future for Merritt… I know they’re temporary but hopefully we can make them long term. Right now, this is a fantastic way to help business in our community move forward.”

Councillor Mike Bhangu echoed these sentiments.

“In other cities we see this often and I’ve always felt that Merritt has missed out on these opportunities.”