Financial help from the City of Vancouver could soon be on its way to restaurant owners who have patios.
And if Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung has her way, the city will also embark on “bold” action, which includes closing streets to traffic so restaurant owners can build patios, and diners will have a pleasant environment and not have to deal with vehicle noise and fumes.
“We’re going to have to be flexible and a bit bolder about how we use public space,” Kirby-Yung told BIV.
Road closures could create new pop-up plazas in the South Granville or Main Street neighbourhoods, she said.
Kirby-Yung added that closing vehicle traffic on part of the downtown Granville Street strip, where there are many restaurants, “would be a huge opportunity.” That thoroughfare has often been closed temporarily on weekends, or on weekend nights, and could theoretically be closed for the summer.
“It’s a fantastic idea,” Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association CEO Charles Gauthier told BIV. “I just don’t think TransLink is going to buy into this.… I don’t think it would happen that quickly.”
BIV asked TransLink whether it would oppose any plan to temporarily reroute buses to Howe and Seymour streets to allow Granville Street to become a pedestrian promenade this summer, and the transit authority replied with a statement saying that if it is approached with that proposal, it will “work with our partners at the City of Vancouver, as always.”
British Columbia Restaurant and Foodservices Association CEO Ian Tostenson, however, said he is of two minds on potentially closing Granville Street to traffic.
“It’s a great idea, but at the same time, we have to be, as an industry, not disrupting the same public that we want to always keep in good grace.”
Another Kirby-Yung initiative was her amendment to a March 30 council motion to ask City of Vancouver staff to report to council on the viability of waiving patio fees for restaurant owners who have permanent outdoor spaces that use some city land.
These patios have existed for years and must be renewed every six months for terms starting in April and November. For summer patios in the downtown area, the rate is $88.25 per square metre, plus the goods and services tax. Outside downtown, the rate drops to $62.54 per square metre plus tax.
Kirby-Yung said she expects the staff report imminently and for council to approve the financial help.
Part of the reason council is considering waiving these fees is because it already waives fees for restaurant owners in its Temporary Expedited Patio Program (TEPP), which oversees pop-up patios on city sidewalks or in parking lanes of streets.
Kirby-Yung is among councillors who say that it is unfair to waive fees for new temporary patios, which use city sidewalks or streets, but not for permanent patios that use similar land.
With the province banning in-restaurant dining until at least May 25, operating restaurant patios is vital for many restaurants’ survival.
Glowbal Restaurant Group owner Emad Yacoub, for example, pays fees to have permanent patios on city land at his Trattoria on West Fourth Avenue, Italian Kitchen on Burrard Street and Coast on Alberni Street.
Coast separately has a TEPP patio, as does Glowbal’s Black+Blue on Alberni Street.
While Yacoub has already paid fees for his permanent patios this summer, he said a credit on his account for the upcoming winter season would help.
Others say the move is no panacea but is needed assistance.
“It would be nice for the city to provide a credit,” Earls owner Stan Fuller told BIV. “But that’s not where we’re losing our money. We’ve still got rent to pay. Some of our landlords have been generous and are taking some of the pain with us, but we still have rent and utilities.”
There are three kinds of restaurant patios in Vancouver:
•permanent patios at least partly on city land;
•TEPP patios; and
•patios that are on private land, for which there are no fees.
Fuller was convinced early in 2021 that he would need more outdoor dining space at his restaurants this year.
Before provincial health officer Bonnie Henry’s March 29 order banning in-restaurant dining, Fuller was expanding the permanent patio at the Earls at West Broadway and Fir Street into the restaurant’s parking lot.
“The patio is on land we lease,” Fuller said. “We needed the landlord’s approval but also the city’s blessing.” •