Vancouver city council is set to look at proposed bylaw changes aimed at streamlining approval for arts and culture events.
A two-year pilot program outlined in a staff report going before council on Tuesday (February 12) calls for a simplified licensing process for live performances in smaller venues including art galleries, studios, warehouses and cafes. It also proposes that a specific category be created to define arts and culture events in commercial and industrial areas under the Zoning and Development By-law.
Vision Vancouver councillor Heather Deal said the initiative could translate to “quite a profound change” in the number of venues that are legally available for performances.
“What we’re trying to do here is address the community input that we’ve had for a very long time…which is that the regulations are both onerous and complex and hard to understand, that there’s no one-stop shopping for getting all the permits, and frankly it seems like too much trouble, so people don’t do it,” she told the Straight by phone.
The proposed changes stem from a live performance regulatory review launched by the city in 2009. Deal indicated the new system is intended to encourage organizers of “underground” events to get approval and ensure their venue meets fire and safety regulations. According to city staff, an estimated 250 to 500 unregulated events are held each year.
“What this means is that all these events that have been going underground because it was too much work or they couldn’t get approval because we didn’t have anything in the city’s bylaws that defined those events and made them legal—they’re legal now,” said Deal. “And that means you’re protected from being shut down on a whim, which has been a big complaint for people, and you’re also protected in the safety issues.”
Under current bylaws, regulations for gatherings of people do not distinguish between between small and large-scale events, or occasional and permanent use of venues, according to the staff report. This can lead to costly requirements for a full building upgrade, such as additional exits, to allow for a small, temporary arts event.
Ryan McCormick, a director with the Safe Amplification Site Society, called the pilot program “a positive step”. But the musician said he’s concerned that a two event per month limit proposed as part of the new system could continue to deter some venues from applying for a licence.
“I think the intention of this licence is to make it easy to bring those venues up from underground and to ensure that they have safety, but you know most of those venues, they have more than two events a month,” he said in a phone interview.
“I feel like a lot of those venues may totally tune off and not bother with the licence, and that eliminates the point of what the licence is meant to do, is to make sure that those venues get their fire extinguishers and emergency exits and stuff.”
McCormick said he’s also concerned that the new licence system could translate to an increased level of enforcement by the city.
“The idea that we would just try this pilot project and at the same time ramp up enforcement on everybody else seems a little premature, and with all the venue closures that have been going on, it doesn’t seem like the right time to be increasing the enforcement patrols and potentially shutting down more spaces,” he said.
According to Deal, no direction is being given to increase enforcement as part of the bylaw changes.
“I certainly think that people should expect that somebody might come by and see if they’re following the regulations–we want this to be a successful program–but we’re not asking our staff to do any stepped up level of enforcement,” she said.
Deal also noted the pilot program is intended for venues that are holding infrequent arts events.
“If it’s a place that’s being used for an event on an occasional basis, or on a monthly basis, then we want to make sure we’re not imposing too heavy a load of requirements,” she said. “If you are a warehouse that is having a large party every night, then you are a nightclub, and you need to actually bring yourself up to a higher level of safety.”
The cost of applying for a licence will range from $25 to $150, depending on the size of the event. Event organizers will need to apply for any provincial special-occasion liquor licences and food permits separately.
City council will vote on staff recommendations Tuesday that call for approval of the pilot program and for referral of the proposed zoning changes to public hearing.