If you’re looking to host a block party this year, the city has got you covered.
New Westminster council has approved a motion by Coun. Daniel Fontaine to temporarily eliminate the block party street occupancy permit fees as a way of encouraging increased neighbourhood connectivity. The city normally charges residents $39 to obtain a street occupancy permit to hold a block part, with the city collecting about $1,500 to $2,000 annually for these fees.
“This is time limited. It's not forever,” Fontaine said. “I would really love to be able to see us encourage every single street, every block in this community, to come back out again and to begin meeting their neighbours.”
Fontaine’s motion stated that the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be challenging for many of the region’s mid-size to larger festivals, and suggested that block parties may be a way for folks to gather.
Fontaine said the $39 fee may not be restrictive to some neighbourhoods, but it could be an issue for others.
“I look forward to implementing this very low cost and I think very high impact opportunity for council to encourage our neighbourhoods to get together and to enjoy each other's company,” he said.
The motion passed, with Mayor Patrick Johnstone and Coun. Ruby Campbell voting in opposition.
Campbell said staff have indicated that the $39 fee does not present a barrier to organizers of block parties.
“If applicants are not expressing price is a barrier, I'm unsure about waiving the fee,” she said. “This said, I think it's a good opportunity to share about the neighbourhood small grants program, and I know many residents already know about this program and have accessed to it.”
Family Services of Greater Vancouver administers the neighbourhood small grants program, which provides grants for a variety of community activities including block parties, arts programs and community garden projects. The spring intake for applications runs from March 7 to April 18, with projects needing to be completed by Nov. 30. (Details at neighbourhoodsmallgrants.ca.)
While there are barriers that prevent some residents from hosting street parties, Coun. Nadine Nakagawa doesn’t think the street occupancy fee is one of them.
“I think we're trying to solve the wrong problem here,” she said. “That's said, I'm not opposed to doing this and seeing how it shakes down because it is a small amount of money for the city.”
Fontaine said he welcomes the opportunity for council to discuss how it could make block parties more equitable for citizens and encourages people to apply for the grants to help with the costs of their block parties. By temporarily eliminating the need to apply for a street occupancy permit, Fontaine said there will be one fewer process citizens would have to do if they were interested in having a block party.
“I just think it helps streamline it,” he said. “It is a test. We we'll see in a year … if the numbers jumped up or just stayed the same. And then at that point, we can be reassess.”