By Steve Hubrecht
This summer will see a couple of businesses spill out onto Invermere’s main street in an effort to promote social distancing, but main street will not be closed to traffic to create a pedestrian-only corridor.
Invermere council received feedback during its Tuesday, June 9 meeting on the idea of a possible closure of main street (7th Avenue) to traffic this summer, in the form of survey results, a petition from local businesses and a pair of emails. The idea had first come up in Invermere’s Tuesday, May 26 committee of the whole meeting, where discussion centered around it as a possible measure to help local businesses maintain social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic and left council members voicing opposing views.
The petition in opposition to closing main street was signed by 30 business owners. The petition read that the signees “take exception” to the idea, with the business owners saying “our businesses depend on vehicle traffic, along with other modes of transport, and losing this valuable access for clientele is not an option.” They add business is down due to COVID-19 and that “sidewalk traffic is at a bare minimum.”
The survey, which was carried out by the district, garnered 31 responses. On the topic of the main street closure, 29 per cent supported closing main street to vehicle traffic and making it pedestrian only, almost 10 per cent supported closing one-way traffic on main street, 6.5 per cent supported closing parking only on main street, and 48 per cent supported keeping main street open to vehicles and parking.
Another question focused on using parking spaces and/or the street to create a safe place for people to line up for businesses; 50 per cent agreed or strongly supported the idea, while 43 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed. Asked if they would be interested in expanding/spilling their retail space onto the sidewalk, to a nearby parking space or onto the street, 48 per cent responded that they already have enough space, while 35.5 per cent had interest in either using the sidewalk, using a nearby parking space, using both the sidewalk plus a parking space, or (simultaneously) using the sidewalk plus a parking space plus the street.
The two emails to council were evenly divided – one from former business owner JoAnne Willox against closing main street to traffic, and one from resident Steph Van de Kemp in support of a pedestrian-only main street.
Councillor Greg Anderson pointed out there is “not a strong majority on either side,” and sought clarification from mayor Al Miller that the district would not be closing main street to traffic this summer, which Miller replied was correct.
Miller and some other councillors blamed the Pioneer (which reported the discussion from the Tuesday, May 26 committee of the whole meeting in its June 4 edition) for stirring up controversy over the matter, with Miller saying “that’s where the problem was.”
(The Pioneer stands behind its reporting: the news report in the June 4 edition clearly outlines the main street closure as a discussed possibility (instead of a bylaw); clearly outlines that council intended to consult with the local business community before following the matter further; and in official documents, such as district agendas, the matter is labelled as “7th Avenue Pedestrian Corridor” and “Closure of 7th Avenue.” Although other possible options, such as allowing businesses to spill out onto main street, were touched on, the overwhelming majority of discussion at the May 26 meeting centred on closing main street).
“We still need to accept this wasn’t the right way to handle this issue,” opined councillor Gerry Taft, who had argued in the May 26 meeting that ideas such as closing main street must come from the business community, rather than from council members. He added that if council members float ideas that “radical” in discussion, this is bound to provoke a strong reaction.
Miller disagreed, saying there’s nothing wrong with council bringing up such ideas for discussion, and that council has been transparent.
Council did approve three temporary right of way occupancies during the June 9 meeting that will allow two businesses and one charitable organization to deal with COVID-19 this summer. Black Star Studios will be allowed to spill out into parking stalls in front of their business for summer art camps and workshops. The workshops and camps are a key part of Black Star’s business and cannot be carried out indoors given social distancing requirements.
Similar social distancing restrictions mean Scotty Burger cannot use its courtyard for customer seating, so council agreed to allow the business to establish additional seating in parking stalls near it for the summer.
Council members also consented — pending agreement from the Invermere Farmers and Artists Market — to allowing the Invermere Health Care Auxiliary society to set up a storage bin in the corner of the lakeview parking lot in which donated items can “wait” before the society’s predominately elderly volunteers handle them.