As the province looks toward reopening measures, restaurants are coming up with ways in which to accommodate patrons in a world of physical distancing, including adding or expanding patios.
Attorney General David Eby said the province will expedite provincial approval for expanded outdoor liquor service. However, part of adding or expanding patios remains under municipal jurisdiction. KTW reached out to the city to learn about how it is accommodating restaurants that wish to open next week for in-person dining amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
City business license inspector Dave Jones said the issue has been on his radar since April, shortly after the pandemic first took hold in British Columbia.
“We’re well ahead of the curve,” Jones said. “I can tell you that we will work with any restaurants.”
Jones said about 75 per cent of downtown restaurants already have sidewalk patios, noting the issue is more significant in places like Vancouver, which has stricter regulations in place.
Jones said sidewalk patio policy was reviewed by the city little more than a decade ago. Victoria Street, for example, was designed with wider sidewalks, allowing for patio space while maintaining pedestrian access. Meanwhile, Vancouver limits patios to maintain sidewalk accessibility in a place with more people and where more people commute by foot or via public transportation.
Jones said downtown restaurant patios of old in Kamloops have already been approved. Restaurants outside of the core, however, may have unique needs, including using private property, such as parking spaces. That would require approval from the private property owner and an application through the city’s development department for a variance. It is via that variance in which city may have some leeway, though that conversation is in the early stages.
“I don’t think in this environment, that’s what we want to do,” Jones said. “That’s a long process and it’s not going to help the industry.”
He said the city considers new patios on a case by case basis, with other factors including safety.
The biggest hurdle, Jones said, is with the liquor licensing component, which is under provincial jurisdiction. He said the city has asked the BC Liquor and Cannabis Branch for plans going forward, in order to temporarily expand what is called the “blue line” — which, perhaps, should be referred to as the “brew line,” as it is essentially an imaginary line dictating the boundaries where liquor is permitted in any given venue — in restaurants already licensed.
In that case, an application would be made to the BC Liquor and Cannabis Branch to extend the blue line, which doesn’t allow for more patrons on the liquor licence, but allows the area where alcohol is served to be expanded, such as outside.
Under normal situations, if a restaurant wants to add a patio, the proprietor talk to Jones and ensures the patio meets planning and development standards. One of those standards is requirement of a certain number of parking stalls. However, Jones said, he expects the city’s planning department won’t be too sticky about that issue during the pandemic.
“That’s the questions being asked right now — can we be lenient on parking spaces? Where can these restaurants expand to? I think if you look around Kamloops, there’s quite a few restaurants. Who knows what each one’s going to come up with? Each individual application, each individual request will be unique to each other.”
Meanwhile, on the topic of restaurants adapting to the new pandemic normal, Jones said he likes an idea out of Denmark, where one restaurant has added so-called “quarantine greenhouses” for diners to eat in translucent pods, while physically distancing. Asked if Kamloops restaurants are able to do that, he said restaurants are only limited by space.
The biggest outdoor patios downtown are located at Boston Pizza and The Plaza Hotel.