Vancouver restaurant's patio plans stonewalled by city despite relaxed bylaws
Como Taperia owner says he'll have to close his restaurant, layoff staff if patio isn't approved
When Shaun Layton found out restaurants in B.C. would be allowed to expand patio service to encourage safe physical distancing, he ordered $3,000 worth of outdoor furniture.
It seemed like a necessary expense to revive his tapas bar, Como Taperia, which like many businesses has taken a major financial hit because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We bought a rail, we bought tables, we got umbrellas, we did the measurements," said Layton, who's been running the restaurant for about two years.
But the plan to set up a European-style eatery outside the Main Street storefront came to a screeching halt after he submitted an application to the city. He says it was swiftly denied with little explanation.
"We need this, and we can't open without it," he said. "We need to run at 75 to 100 per cent capacity to make it work."
Layton is calling on the city to improve its patio permitting process so small businesses like his can get more customers in the door. He says this most recent incident highlights an even bigger problem at city hall: a wall of red tape that for years has kept restaurant and bar owners from being able to license outdoor spaces.
In late May, the province announced it would allow businesses like restaurants, cafés and breweries to open up patios on sidewalks and parking stalls, allowing them to serve more people at a safe physical distance.
Owners apply through a streamlined process via the province's Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch. But it's also up to municipalities to grant approval.
The City of Vancouver started accepting applications on June 1, with staff emphasizing that it would take only a handful of days to process each permit.
Layton says he applied right away, and was denied.
"They couldn't tell us why or why not [it was denied]. They just said 'this is a strategic right of way, and it's a no,'" he said. "They didn't give us any alternative, they didn't give us anything we can work on."
In an e-mailed statement from Jessie Adcock, the city's general manager of licensing, "the patio application Como Taperia submitted is on private property, which brings a different set of requirements."
Adcock did not specify what those requirements are, but said staff are considering recommending bylaw changes to council to accommodate temporary patios on private property.
As of June 4, the city had approved 14 temporary expedited patio permits out of 46 applications.
A temporary fix
After speaking to news outlets and taking to social media to express his frustrations, Layton says he's been approached by city officials who have assured him he will be issued a permit. It's a relief for him as it means he'll get to rehire 10 of his staff.
But he says there are still big issues at city hall that need to be resolved when it comes to licensing outdoor spaces.
Since opening Como Taperia, he's worked on installing a permanent patio outside the storefront. He had a design drafted up, and submitted an application — before it was ultimately denied.
"Our realtor and the developer of the building both thought we were zoned for a patio," he said. "We got a 'no,' and there was no real reason. We kept doing this runaround for basically the last year and a half. We spent a ton of money designing it."
He said he even hired a consultant to work with city staff, but they've been unable to come up with a long-term solution. The city's temporary patio licences will expire in October.
Layton hopes the new program could ignite some permanent changes at city hall when it comes to expediency and minimizing red tape.
"Patio licences take forever — and rarely happen," he said.