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Businesses speak against not being allowed tents for sidewalk patios

Jason Stockfish | advertising@fitzhugh.ca

A letter from Parks Canada to the municipality denying the allowance of tents on sidewalk seating created a stir at the council meeting on May 17.

The letter from Parks was in response to a requested amendment to a permit granted to the municipality in April that allows businesses to operate in public spaces on downtown sidewalks and parking lanes.

Parks retains authority over land use, planning and development in Jasper, and as a result of federal jurisdiction in this area, the town is expected to comply with the Jasper National Park Architectural Motif Guidelines.

These guidelines stipulate that the town must adhere to specific aesthetic expectations.

One of those expectations is that tents and canopies on sidewalks and in parking lanes are not appropriate in Jasper. 

At the behest of business owners, council directed administration to write to Parks seeking an amendment to allow more than just umbrellas as cover for their patrons.

Parks did not accept the amendment.

“We are of the opinion that tents or free standing canopies are not in keeping with (architectural motif) guidelines,” the letter reads.

Parks noted it came to this decision based on four factors.

  1. Business community feedback received from the Chamber of Commerce 
  2. Recommendations from the Planning and Development Advisory Committee (PDAC) public consultation process 
  3. Guidelines and reports from the Town of Banff, which has similar motif guidelines 
  4. The joint Parks Canada and Municipality of Jasper’s Community Sustainability Plan

Business owners appeared before council as a delegation to ask for help in finding ways to appeal to Parks’ decision makers and have their concerns heard firsthand.

Sotirios Korogonas, owner of Downstream Restaurant & Lounge, was first to speak on the issue.

“I, and several members of the business community, are quite concerned that we have had no progress on…the amendment to have coverings over the use of public spaces,” he said.

“My question to council is, what legitimate steps can you take to help us to immediately resolve this or to furlough this until a resolution can be met so that we can meet our business needs going forward for the next few months because time is of the essence?”

In response to Korogonas, Coun. Scott Wilson voiced his shared frustration.

“I don’t know what we can do. We’ve hit a roadblock, and I’m not sure how to move forward at this point. But I’d like to.”

Korogonas asked whether there is a mechanism for the businesses who have paid their fees for the patios to speak with the decision-making body to expedite the situation. 

“I understand that (council) is hamstrung by legalities but…we’d like our community and our councillors to formulate a plan with us,” he said.

“We need some advice from you. We are here pleading for your support, because you are the highest authority that we can go to.”

George Andrew, owner of the Astoria Hotel, spoke next on the matter.

Andrew said those in the delegation have been affected by lost business during COVID and some may need years to recover from the debt incurred.

“Council has provided us with an opportunity to extend our restaurant facilities…onto public spaces, which will help with our recovery.”

The businesses located at the Astoria Hotel provide seating for 60 people on their outdoor patios.

However, when the weather gets inclement, the businesses don’t have room indoors to accommodate this overflow if at capacity. 

It is for this reason Andrew’s businesses engineered canopies to keep dining customers protected from the elements rather than having strong winds carrying away umbrellas.

“I would challenge the authority that has decided that these structures are not allowed on the basis that the dining facilities need to keep their customers comfortable,” he said.

Coun. Wilson pointed out that “it’s very difficult to define what a tent is.” 

“If I were you, I’d be using four-legged umbrellas (rather than a tent or canopy),” Wilson said.

Mayor Richard Ireland noted that council has twice supported the continued use of patio seating as permitted in 2020 and 2021 for the 2022 season.

Justin Melnyk, president of the Jasper Park Chamber of Commerce, appeared before the council to express the Chamber’s support for businesses and offered to help appeal to Parks.

Coun. Wendy Hall asked Melnyk why Parks had referred to feedback from the Chamber in justifying its denial of the amendment. 

Melnyk was unsure why the organization’s feedback would be understood as opposition to the requested amendment when a vast majority of businesses surveyed were in favour of tents and canopies.

Hall wondered if the Chamber’s report on the matter had been misconstrued.

Hall further questioned Parks’ use of negative feedback from Banff as an irrelevant example, as from her reading on the subject, the public opposition was toward much larger structures than the ones being used by businesses in town.

“The tents in question aren’t the pop ups that we use in Jasper; they’re the big, huge event tents…with walls,” Hall said.

“I’m disappointed in this and I don’t really know where else to go, but if there is an appeal process, these four points (presented by Parks in their letter) aren’t actually right.”

Coun. Ralph Melnyk called for a motion to direct administration to draft the terms of reference for a task force to review the conditions of the permit in hopes of finding a resolution as soon as possible.

The motion passed unopposed.

Administration will present the terms of reference for the task force in the near future.

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