City considers patio program extension

Temporary outdoor patio spaces, first made available to Richmond food service providers last year, may be getting another extension.

The program was initially introduced in May 2020 as a way to help businesses during the pandemic. It was then extended for a year, through Oct. 31, 2021, and expanded to include additions that would make patios usable in bad weather.

“I think so far it’s been a very successful program—in the first year we only had about 15 (businesses take part), and now in the past year we’ve had 64,” says Coun. Chak Au. “(That) shows that there’s a need for it; it’s being welcomed by business owners as well as customers and that is the basis for trying to extend this program for another year.”

Staff is recommending the program be extended through June 1, 2022, while they also explore the development of an ongoing program to allow patios on public property.

A staff report submitted in advance of today’s general purposes committee meeting notes that six of the 64 permits issued for patios were on public property (sidewalks or on-street parking spaces).

Au says while he’s in favour of extending the program for a year, he sees a need to review regulations, requirements and licensing before creating a permanent program.

“It was meant to be a temporary measure in the beginning, and we waived some conditions to make it happen,” says Au. There’s a fundamental difference between a temporary program and a permanent program—particularly I’m concerned about the use of public space. We need to review how appropriate it’s going to be on a permanent basis.”

When businesses with existing permits were polled, 64 per cent said they would be interested in pursuing a permanent patio expansion, 20 per cent did not plan to pursue a permanent expansion and 16 per cent were undecided, according to the staff report.

Most businesses that have been operating temporary patios could pursue permanent expansion through existing municipal permitting and licensing processes. The six patios that are on city property would not be able to permanently expand after the program ends, but the creation of a permanent patio program could include guidelines to enable this kind of expansion.

“I’ve attended a few places with this patio program and I would say all of them that I’ve visited were very positive about the experience,” says Au. “(And) for customers, I think it’s a new experience and during summertime of course it’s a very pleasant experience too.”

The program will be discussed at this afternoon’s general purposes committee meeting, which will take place at 4 p.m. and is viewable online.