Restaurant owners pondering a pop-up, on-street patio this summer may not have to pay one of the city’s fees.
At Whitehorse city council’s March 7 meeting, land and building services manager Pat Ross brought forward a recommendation that the fees and charges bylaw be changed to essentially take away the bagged metre fee owed by restaurants setting tables on the street.
Under the program adopted in 2021 to offset COVID-19 seating restrictions, restaurants in the downtown core could set up expanded seating areas into the parking areas on streets, provided they met a series of conditions. Among them were setting up barriers, ensuring distance requirements are met and paying a bagged metre fee for the parking spaces that are taken up by the additional seating.
No parking area pop-up patios were set up last year after the program was initiated. A review committee at the city found there were financial barriers for businesses, Ross said.
Along with the bagged metre fee — estimated to be about $9,000, based on three spots used over five months — there’s a development fee of $400; an inspection permit fee of $75; required liability insurance of $2,500, based on the required $5 million in coverage over five months; $15,000 to $20,000 in construction and furnishings for the additional space, based on national average costs; $8,000 in additional staffing, based on two staff; and $2,500 in other costs such as cleaning, patio storage and more.
By cutting out the bagged metre fee, it was suggested there may be more interest from restaurants in setting up a pop-up patio.
“To encourage the development of on-street pop-up patios, council may consider making use of the parking spaces and associated permitting and inspection fees,” Ross said. “However, it should be acknowledged that permit-related fees are supposed to be set to reflect the administrative cost of issuance and that by not charging a fee we pass the cost on to taxpayers.”
He went on to note that by reducing the bagged metre fee down to nothing for pop-up patios for the 2022 season, it would address one of the major costs businesses face in setting up the on-street patios.
A lengthy discussion by council members followed, with Coun. Ted Laking noting a number of times that he had brought up the issue in January and was pleased to see it coming back to council so soon.
While a number of councillors voiced support for doing away with the bagged metre fees in favour of fewer costs to business owners wanting to set up an on-street pop-up patio, they also highlighted other changes they would like to have looked at in the program.
Council members spoke in favour of having administration look at the amount of insurance required, though as director of corporate services Valerie Braga explained the city had considered a number of factors when determining the required level of insurance.
“The insurance levels were set at a level that would protect taxpayers and the city as well as the owners of a business,” Braga said. “And the $5 million is not an uncommon insurance level that the city asks for for certain activities. The community was a little bit taken aback at first, but understood, we felt they understood.
“And last year there were at least two instances downtown where vehicles did crash into the buildings themselves and caused a lot of damage to the building. Luckily there were no injuries that I’m aware of.”
While council opted to have administration look again at the six metre distance requirement as well as insurance requirements, they also indicated they would move ahead with a vote on the bagged metre fees at their next meeting March 14.
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