Calgary city council approves extending fee relief for local businesses amid COVID-19

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On Monday, Oct. 5, Calgary city council will look at a report recommending they extend certain fee relief measures for local businesses for another six months amid COVID-19. As Sarah Offin reports, the measures were set to end on Oct. 31. – Oct 5, 2020

Winter patios might become a thing in Calgary.

On Monday, Calgary councillors unanimously approved fee relief measures for local businesses, including one that makes it less expensive for restaurants to set up patios.

The fee relief measures were put in at the start of May and are set to end on Oct. 31, but city administration recommends the measures remain in place another six months until April 30, 2021.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the extension will help make doing business during the coronavirus pandemic easier for Calgary establishments.

“We’re very committed to making that process easy. In fact, the two patios that I sat on this week that were winterized were fully covered with sort of roll-up shutters,” he said.

“Now, [one] of them was a larger business — they could afford it — but one of them was a small, local business, and they felt that was something that was an investment that was worth making. So we’ll certainly work to reduce the red tape and make that easy for people.”
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Read more: Coronavirus: Calgary to allow shops, restaurants to expand patios to allow for social distancing

It’s anticipated the proposed extension of the fee relief measures would cost the city less than $1 million over the six months, a report to council said.

“Any revenue reductions as a result of the fee relief measures can be offset by drawing from the Planning and Development Sustainment Reserve,” the report states.

According to the report, the City of Calgary has seen a 288 per cent increase in the number of so-called outdoor café development permits submitted (62 in total) since the fee relief measures were implemented on May 1.

“Waiving these fees provides a direct benefit to restaurant owners and potential builders as they move forward with their projects,” the report states.

Read more: Calgary mayor encourages restaurants to winterize patios, keep them open as long as possible

The relief extension of the outdoor cafe development permit was welcome news for Jordan Sorrenti, owner of Paddy’s Barbecue and Brewery in southeast Calgary.

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Sorrenti said setting up his patio cost him thousands of dollars — costs that included the permit and rental fees as well as for initial designs to send to the city for approval.

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“Every little bit helps in this,” Sorrenti said.

The COVID-19 pandemic also brought with it additional costs, according to Sorrenti, like sanitizer, masks and additional staff to help with enhanced cleaning.

While Sorrenti said the relief is welcome, he would like city council to go a step further and extend the relief measures through to late 2021.

“Operators and restaurants, it’ll be very much a relief because they’re going to be looking at how they’re going to survive through the winter and into 2021,” Sorrenti said. “But if they can look forward to more relief from the city, I think that’ll go a long way.”

Read more: Canadian restaurants plan their reopenings as COVID-19 restrictions ease

Sorrenti said he’s noticed more people feel comfortable in an outdoor environment, which has him concerned for the winter months.

“When we lose the patio, we’re going to lose a lot of seats,” Sorrenti said.

Businesses with temporary patios that encroach on sidewalks will have to make way for city snow clearing once some serious snow flies.

“Those are just not going to work when it snows because we have to remove the snow,” Nenshi said.

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“So we’re going to push this for as long as we can until there’s a major snowfall. Once we have a weather forecast that there’s going to be more than two centimetres of snow, then those temporary patios are going to have to go away and they’re going to have to shrink back to their normal size.”

According to the city’s general manager of planning and development, businesses have been informed about the snow clearing plans that take effect after the Thanksgiving weekend.

“We’ve heard that Danish patio solutions, such as blankets, are neither hygienic in the context of COVID nor feasible for the deep winter months in Calgary,” Stuart Dalgleish told council. “Other approaches, such as gas heating, are reviewed as cost-prohibitive.

“Many businesses are focused on ways to enable their interior spaces to function as best as possible.”

Read more: COVID-19 rent relief for small businesses ‘essential’ to survival: Calgary restaurant

According to city administration, officials were expecting a significant drop in the amount of Change of Use Development Permits, which are said to be tied directly to the opening of businesses.

The report showed that since May 1, 2020, there was only a 10 per cent decrease in those permits from the previous year.

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Planning and Development officials also recommended that council continue to defer fees for commercial and multi-family building permits, with a new minimum permit fee requirement.

Applicants must now pay 25 per cent of the fee upfront with the remainder required before the permit is issued for any permits with a minimum fee of $2,000.

According to city administration, the deferral of this fee had the biggest impact on industry customers, with over 1,300 applicants opting to defer payments until the end of the permit approval process.

BILD Calgary, a development advocate, welcomed the extension.

“We believe these measures being put in front of council are important for industry and Calgarians as they help support ongoing investment and employment in Calgary,” a BILD spokesperson said in a statement.

“We have worked closely with the city to look for opportunities to better work together to deal with the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has presented. We will continue to work with them on a variety of development issues and opportunities moving forward.”

– With files from Sarah Offin and Melissa Gilligan