VICTORIA -- Three south island municipalities are making it easier for businesses to expand onto sidewalks and other public spaces amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Langford, Sidney and Nanaimo are streamlining the process in their respective municipalities to support businesses and assist with physical distancing guidelines this summer.

Langford council recently approved a new bylaw that allows restaurants and retail businesses to expand their operations onto sidewalks, boulevards and other common areas, pending approval of an application.

 “In true Langford form, we wanted to approve the new bylaw as quickly as possible to allow our businesses to quickly re-open in a safe manner,” said Langford Mayor Stew Young.

“If you are a Langford business owner, the city is here for you and your staff. Through this bylaw, we have cut the red tape to make the process of applying for patio expansions simple, efficient and at no cost to business, while ensuring the safety of your staff and patrons.”

Castro Boateng, owner of the House of Boateng restaurant in Langford, says the changes are a welcome relief.

“This is a huge help for us right now [as] our restaurant will only be at half capacity,” he said.

Boateng has been catering for a decade now and opened the Langford restaurant in it’s current location on Peatt Road about two years ago.

He says some guest aren’t quite ready to come sit inside the restaurant, so having the flexibility of the extra outdoor space is a “win-win for all of us.”

House of Boateng was closed when the pandemic first began, but opened up for take-out about four weeks ago.

Boateng says revenue at his restaurant is down by 60 per cent and the catering side of his business, which made up 50 per cent of his sales, is completely gone. Now, he will be relying on just his restaurant sales to stay afloat.

The new bylaw will allow him to have about 15 to 20 more seats in front of his business,

“This is what is either going to make us or break us this year,” said Boateng.

The local restaurant owner is encouraging people to get out and support their local eateries any way they can.

In conjunction with the BC Restaurant & Food Service Association, the City of Langford says that it is ensuring that the needs of businesses are being met while complying with provincial and Island Health regulations.

City staff are now going door-to-door to businesses to let them know about the bylaw change and to help them through the paperwork while they are there, which alleviates the need for owners to leave their business.

Meanwhile, the Town of Sidney has unrolled a similar program within its borders. The town says that it is allowing businesses and restaurants to expand their outdoor seating onto sidewalks or repurposed parking spaces during the pandemic

Town staff will be monitoring pedestrian levels and will be watching out for “pinch points” to make sure that accessibility is still being maintained.

Similarly, the City of Nanaimo is allowing restaurant owners to expand onto repurposed parking stalls.

“Council is aware of the ongoing challenges that restaurants are facing during this ongoing pandemic,” said Dale Lindsay, general manager of development services for Nanaimo.

“The additional space will help them gain back capacity as they resume regular business operations. As such, the City is supportive of allowing for the conversion of parking stalls to outdoor patios spaces at this time."