VICTORIA -- The District of Saanich is allowing restaurants and retail businesses to expand their patio or outdoor retail sections into parking lots amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision was unanimously approved by Saanich council last week to support local businesses as they reopen during the pandemic.

While other local governments, like the City of Victoria, are allowing restaurants to expand onto public sidewalks, and sometimes roadways, Saanich staff recommended to council that businesses be allowed to expand onto nearby private parking stalls instead.

Staff say that most Saanich businesses are located in shopping centres or neighbourhood villages that are not adjacent to sidewalks or major pedestrian walkways.

“The best opportunity for outdoor expansion for most of these businesses is onto parking lots and walkways that are entirely on private property, not the adjacent public sidewalk,” said district staff in a report to council.

The temporary business expansions are permitted until Nov. 1.

Distract staff say that the reduced amount of parking spaces should have minimal impacts this summer, as vehicle traffic is currently at reduced levels due to COVID-19.

“This practice is not recommended on a permanent basis. It is, however, supportable in the short term in consideration of the impacts of the ongoing pandemic,” said district staff.

The District of Saanich will also be sending letters to local businesses owners calling for ideas on how businesses could benefit from using public spaces, like sidewalks, in the near future.

Moving forward, the municipality plans to create an interdepartmental staff task force to review and approve the use of any public space for businesses, should requests arise.