BANFF – Fees will be waived this summer for businesses wanting sidewalk restaurant patios and outdoor merchandising to help ease financial struggles in the face of the COVID-19 public health crisis.
On Monday (May 25), Banff town council voted 5-2 to to waive the permit fees that restaurateurs and retailers typically pay to extend their businesses into the public realm.
“I support waiving the fees. It didn’t occur to me that we would be looking at revenue generation from this this summer based on the circumstances,” said Mayor Karen Sorensen.
Under the Town of Banff’s fees and charges bylaw, a permit for outdoor merchandise displays costs $200 a year.
For restaurants and coffee shops setting up patios on public sidewalks, the fees are based on the level of service offered, whether it’s counter, table or full-service. The cost of a permit for full-service sidewalk patio, for example, is $55 per chair and $200 per table.
Councillors Peter Poole and Ted Christensen believe a nominal fee should still be charged.
“As somebody who runs businesses, I am used to paying suppliers for various resources, be it my good staff first and foremost and certainly our suppliers. In this case, one of the suppliers for these businesses would be the rest of the citizens of Banff,” said Coun. Poole.
“Philosophically, it is better for the purchaser or the receiver of those resources to feel like they are giving something back, and I know this is a really, really tough year, but the reciprocal exchange is important, even if it is a low fee.”
Coun. Poole also thought there was inequity in the fees charged for sidewalk seating permits for restaurants and cafés compared to outdoor merchandising displays for retailers.
He noted a retailer could pay $200 a year, whereas a restaurant could pay $3,000 a year.
“There seems to be a 10-to-one difference there. My interest would be nominal collection of revenue so that there is burden sharing, but that we don’t aim to seek full cost recovery,” said Coun. Poole.
“I am typically in favour of that, but this is a disastrous year for all businesses whether you're retail or restaurant, and so I think it’s fair for the businesses in this area to pay some fee, but not all of the fee.”
The 100 and 200 blocks of Banff Avenue and a portion of Caribou Street will be closed to traffic as of June 5 to make more room for people on foot to be able to physically distance due to COVID-19.
Administrative officials said there is still some uncertainty with how the summer will unfold, noting sidewalk seating could be closed down if pedestrian congestion becomes a concern for public health reasons.
“In the past, when we charged for sidewalk seating there was a level of certainty around the scale of your operation and how much you would be operating,” said Darren Enns, the Town’s director of planning and development.
“In this is environment, we’re very unsure about what the reliability of operations is going to be, and why I say that is because public health is our main issue, so I could see situations where we have busy days where we might have to pull seating.”