Delta residents will be able to legally enjoy a beer at certain city parks this summer.
On Monday, council gave first, second and third readings to a new bylaw allowing alcohol consumption in designated areas of three Delta parks — North Delta Community Park, Memorial Park in Ladner and Diefenbaker Park in Tsawwassen — as part of a pilot project set to run June 1 through Sept. 30.
Drinking will be permitted seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to dusk, in designated “alcohol allowed zones.” At North Delta Community Park, for example, alcohol consumption will only be allowed between the concession stand/washroom building and the east edge of the park and between the softball diamond and tennis court to the north and the softball diamond to the south, with no alcohol allowed in the children’s playground.
Coun. Dylan Kruger, whose motion last month led to the pilot project’s creation, told council on Monday the pilot has an equity component in that it supports residents who do not have access to private outdoor space — himself included.
He also said it’s a way to support small businesses that are struggling under COVID restrictions including the current ban on indoor dining by facilitating additional take-out options and “unique branding opportunities.”
The pilot was to also include Sunstone Park in North Delta, however the park was removed after several council members voiced concerns over the appropriateness of the location.
Coun. Dan Copeland said he supported the concept of the pilot but opposed the inclusion on Sunstone Park over the lack of washroom facilities, saying the location went against the criteria staff set out for the project.
A report by Delta staff states the parks were chosen in part because they have amenities — public washrooms, picnic tables and/or shelters — that will support the pilot project, with the exception of Sunstone. The plan was to install portable toilets at that park for the duration of the pilot.
“I think that in a community such as Sunstone, where people have paid a significant amount of money for detached townhomes and a nice park in their community that they enjoy, (…) I think they deserve better than porta-potties in that park just for the sake of opening up a drinking spot in a park.”
Copeland said the portable toilets would cause a noise issue due to their spring-loaded doors that slam shut, and that they attract vandalism including being tipped over or set on fire, an issue he’d seen several times in his career with Delta Fire.
Further, he noted that Sunstone and North Delta Community Park are a short walk from one another, arguing a park in another area — such as Delview, Annieville or Westview — might be a better choice.
Councillors Jeannie Kanakos and Lois Jackson echoed Copeland’s concerns about Sunstone Park, with Kanakos voicing concerns that neither location supports residents living south of 72nd Avenue, and Jackson noting that Sunstone is “not seen very well from the road.”
Kruger, in response to councillors’ questions about policing compliance with the new bylaw and COVID-19 restrictions at the parks, as well as concerns about how the project would be received by the parks’ neighbours, pointed out that similar pilot projects in North Vancouver and Port Coquitlam were well received by residents and resulted in very few complaints to either the city or police.
“The intention of the entire pilot program is to ensure that everything that was illegal or against the rules before the passing of this bylaw will remain illegal and against the rules after the passing of this bylaw, whether it be underage drinking, drinking after dark [or] gathering in large groups against COVID protocols,” Kruger said.
“But what will change is we won’t be penalizing otherwise lawfully-abiding citizens who take their bikes down to Four Winds [Brewing] and get a four-pack of Juxtapose IPA and bring it down to Memorial Park in their small family unit and enjoy it with a nice sandwich from Stir Coffee or a pizza from Il Posto.”
Coun. Bruce McDonald said the pilot is similar to changes made last month to the city’s fire bylaw to allow gas-fuelled fire pits and heating elements.
“We just made legal what people have been doing,” McDonald said. “All it means is now they don’t have to hide the beer or glass of wine in the cooler. I really don’t see much more change than that.”
In February, based on strong approval from a public survey, Port Coquitlam city council agreed to permanently permit drinking in the seven parks included in last year’s pilot program, and to conduct a second pilot program at three others this summer.
According to a press release, about 86 per cent of the 573 survey respondents had a “good” experience during the pilot and wanted it to continue. Almost 90 per cent of those surveyed were Port Coquitlam residents and almost two-thirds were age 40 or up.
Positive feedback about the program included that it fostered a sense of community, allowed people to gather and play games in a socially-distanced safe way and reduced feelings of isolation. Feedback also included requests to expand the program to other parks.
Those with concerns about the program generally commented that parks are not an appropriate place for drinking, and cited the potential for litter, noise, excessive consumption and inappropriate behaviour.
During the pilot, PoCo bylaw staff conducted proactive patrols and found that people were generally gathering safely and enjoying the parks with family and friends, with no reports of “undesirable behaviour” or bylaw breaches.
Further, RCMP advised the city they had no concerns arising from the pilot.
The city’s parks department did note more garbage and recycling in the seven pilot sites, but the release states this was the case in all Port Coquitlam parks, which experienced notably increased use last year.