With patio season upon us, Vancouver's city council has voted to waive patio permit fees for 2021 in light of the extreme financial difficulties many restaurants have faced during the pandemic.
Now, permit fees for both small and large patios across the city have been waived.
"It's really considerate of the city to do that," says Ian Tostenson with the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association.
"At a time where restaurants have been struggling ... every little bit helps."
A typical permit fee in Vancouver can range anywhere from around $450 up to $2,800 depending on size.
The city estimates waived fees will result in around $1.2 million in reduced revenue for the city.
"As we continue to head towards re-opening and recovery, this is one more way we're supporting small businesses while keeping people safe," said Mayor Kennedy Stewart.
Refunds will be issued to any business that has already paid its annual permit fee.
Tostenson predicts this move will encourage more restaurants, especially smaller establishments to commit to building their own patios.
Temporary patio program
Last year, the city introduced a temporary expedited patio program which facilitated quick, low-cost patio options for restaurants. Those permits are also free.
The program has been popular with 544 patios approved for this summer — mostly on public property like curbsides and sidewalks.
Tostenson is hopeful the program lives beyond its temporary status with many of those patios becoming permanent.
"It adds to the ambience of the city," he says. "As tourism comes back, we would be more like European cities where people live on their patios all summer."
He believes it would be the wrong move for cities to suddenly cancel these programs after the pandemic as restaurants are going to take years to recover from the financial losses.
"There's going to have to be some reasonable accommodations," he said.
Supporting local businesses
Temporary patio programs have helped many businesses across B.C. during the pandemic. Programs exist in many cities including Surrey, Kamloops and Abbotsford.
Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West says that more than 25 businesses in his city have taken advantage of a program to expand onto outdoor public spaces, whether that's with outdoor seating, patios or even displays.
"Our local businesses in Poco are really the heart and soul of the community and they are really valued by our residents," says West.
The city also waived all fees for the program, which can cost up to a couple of thousand dollars, he said. And to make the process easier during the pandemic, the city removed red tape by eliminating licenses for the expansions.
"Every time you hear a politician speak right now, they're talking about how we're all in this together," he says, adding that now is the time to prove it.