Taco beats car as restaurant variance approved

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Plans to turn El Loco Taco from a street food truck to a fully licensed restaurant can now proceed with approval of a parking variance and development permit granted at Thursday’s Salt Spring Local Trust Committee meeting.

Lions Hall was packed with supporters who burst into applause at the conclusion of the application. Six people also spoke during the town hall session of the meeting to support the variance to permit six on-site parking spaces instead of the 15 that would normally be required under the Salt Spring Official Community Plan.

“My own view is that six spaces are neither here nor there in this particular location,” said Salt Spring trustee George Grams. “This is probably one of the most important sites downtown, very prominent indeed. Certainly what is proposed is way better than the previous use as a gas station . . . and it is way better than the dereliction we’ve experienced over the past several years.”

In August, business founder Larry Gorrill became the first tenant of the former Shell site since the service station closed seven years ago and went through its environmental remediation process. He and managing partner Tom Bremner have been working on a site plan that allows for some parking as well as outdoor seating and space for deliveries.

Issues with the development permit related to lighting, landscaping and pedestrian safety. Planning staff noted as well that reducing parking requirements could have multiple impacts on the downtown community, including putting pressure on the limited number of street spaces and private lots. Some downtown business owners have opposed the application for that reason.

The application has opened up a wider conversation about possibly outdated language in the OCP, both related to parking requirements and the need to differentiate between new developments and the repurposing of existing space. The greater problem of vehicle traffic and parking in Ganges has also been brought into sharp focus.

Trustee Peter Grove echoed some of the public speakers who said Thursday that a different planning approach is needed going forward.

“We cannot let cars run and develop our downtown core; we have to think differently,” Grove said.

Sidewalk improvements were discussed but Sharon Hall, one of the property owners, pointed out that building a “floating” raised sidewalk would only add to the danger since the edge of the property is not attached to anything. Bremner and Gorrill agreed to continue to work with planning staff to create a more delineated walkway that is clearly separated from street parking.

For more on this story, see the Feb. 14 issue of the Driftwood newspaper. 

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