British Columbia

Vancouver approves more than 300 temporary patios as calls to extend program mount

With 360 temporary patios approved since June 1 and the project set to expire on Oct. 31, some business owners are concerned about what happens when it ends.

360 temporary patios approved since June 1, but the pilot project expires this fall

People drink and mingle on a patio outside of a bar in Gastown in Vancouver, B.C., in July. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In just over two months the City of Vancouver has issued hundreds of temporary patio licenses for bars, restaurants and breweries — a program that's been a lifeline for many business owners while igniting calls for permanent changes to city bylaws.

Since June 1, the city has approved more than 360 temporary patio permits. The program is aimed at allowing safe physical distancing inside and outside establishments while bringing in more customers.

Restaurant owners like Shaun Layton say the program has changed the face of Vancouver, calling it one of the few silver linings to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"You've got some really cool restaurants that have beer gardens, with outdoor games," said Layton, owner of restaurant Como Taperia. "I think it's injected a ton of culture in a time when it's healthy to be outdoors into the neighbourhood."

"It's just more vibrant out there," he said.

A timely lifeline

The temporary patio program was green-lit by the province which allowed businesses like restaurants, pubs, and breweries to apply to expand their service licenses after being hard hit by the pandemic. The larger serving areas are not meant to increase occupancy levels, but to allow for physical distancing.

Municipalities, however, must sign off on each application to ensure they're in compliance with local bylaws. Several businesses in Vancouver ran into immediate roadblocks trying to get approved.

Como Taperia was one of them.

Layton's application was denied initially after submitting patio plans on private property. The city eventually overhauled restrictive bylaws to allow establishments like Como Taperia to qualify for a temporary license.

Shaun Layton, owner of Como Taperia, has been trying to get a patio built outside his Vancouver restaurant at 7th Avenue and Main Street for over a year. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

"It's really cool to see people eating and drinking on a sidewalk that normally was bare and boring," said Layton. "The city has been quite boring when it comes to anything outside forever, [Vancouver has] a bit of a reputation for it."

Post-October concerns

Layton says a swatch of businesses have utilized their licenses to create innovative spaces. The Keefer Bar, for example, built a mini-golf course in its outdoor space, surrounded by murals on its concrete surroundings.

The Keefer Bar in Vancouver's Chinatown has turned its temporary outdoor patio into a mini-golf course. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

But uncertainties still loom over what might happen when the project ends on Oct. 31.

Business owners like Ryan Parfitt of Luppolo Brewing Company don't expect physical distancing concerns to go away anytime soon — especially given the recent uptick in of COVID-19 cases B.C., and the seemingly inevitable second wave.

Ryan Parfitt, co-owner of Luppolo Brewing Co., outside the East Vancouver establishment. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"The unknown of what's going to happen after Oct. 31 is somewhat worrisome," said Parfitt. "In the rainy months and in the winters, we're not going to want to be cramming people indoors."

Parfitt has a temporary patio on a lot adjacent to his existing one. He's in favour of extending the program, and says he would outfit his outdoor space with a canopy and heat lamps to maintain safe distancing over the winter months.

"I think it would be a lot more comfortable and safer," he said.

In the meantime, a motion to ask staff to review the results of the temporary patio project will be brought to Vancouver city council on Sept. 15. It also asks to review options for an annual seasonal patio program.

For owners like Parfitt and Layton, it's a step in the right direction.

"It's kind of sad that it took a pandemic to make our city do something fun and cool," said Parfitt.

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