Surrey council has rejected Councillor Linda Annis’s call for the city to waive permit fees for restaurants and pubs that wish to expand their patio space in an effort to make up for business they’ve lost to the pandemic.
During a city council meeting May 25 council voted to allow restaurants and pubs to expand their patio space so they could be more financial viable while adhering to social distancing guidelines from the provincial health officer.
Annis noted during the June 29 council meeting that of the 800 businesses affected, only five to date have applied to expand.
“It’s become clear that the city fees that the restaurant owners would be charged and the red tape they must go through, that the program was not an incentive for them to participate in this opportunity,” Annis told council.
Councillor Mandeep Nagra asked staff how many restaurants are in queue.
Jean Lamontagne, general manager of planning, said the city has received six applications so far. “Of those six, we’ve issued five. And the sixth one we received it on Friday, last Friday, and it’s in process right now. We are likely going to have it issued before the end of the day on Wednesday.”
Councillor Laurie Guerra said she would not support Annis’s motion because with the “minimal” fees the city is charging, “it is pure cost recovery.
“The city is subsidizing almost 50 per cent of the cost, averaging approximately $2,200 to $3,400 per business, and they’re doing it in a three-day turnaround. So we’re not even including staffing costs.”
— Anita Huberman (@anitahuberman) June 30, 2020
Councillor Jack Hundial supported Annis’s motion.
“As somebody who had a restaurant before here in the city, I can tell you it’s a challenging time,” he said. “I don’t know if the low numbers are a result of those that have just sort of given up, or if it’s actually those that see this as an impediment.”
Hundial noted Port Coquitlam is not only not charging similar fees but actually set aside $50,000 to help and support businesses there.
“I think as a gesture for our city, this size, if we want to continue to invest in our businesses and the jobs that are associated with it, it makes sense, even at the $200 mark, maybe they pay up front and they get the refund afterwards if they go through and completed the process,” he said. “We really can’t keep delaying and debating this back and forth. I think we just need to make a decision, go ahead and do it, help those businesses to survive here.”
Annis noted that to a small business owner $3,000 to get their patio “in shape,” and pay the fees is a lot of money.
She pointed out that $3,000 is not as significant to the city as it is to a small business owner.
Mayor Doug McCallum voted against Annis’s motion.
“The ones that have done it, and it’s working, this small amount – and I’ve heard this from two or three – this small amount of fees that they have is very, very small, in regards to how much revenue they get back for that,” McCallum said. “And just for the thought that they can do it, they’re very, very pleased.”
“I think that we have bent over backwards for small business,” McCallum said. “I have been with a couple and they are so pleased, you know, that we have helped them so much on it. They are just glowing, most of them.”
The five Safe Surrey Coalition council members defeated the motion.
Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, sent out a tweet in response Monday night. “Surrey Council tonight will not waive temporary patio fees – they are not bending backwards for small business contrary to what they say,” she wrote.