Okotoks is making it easier for temporary patios to pop up in commercial districts.
Town council adopted a land-use bylaw amendment on April 26 to remove regulations that restrict outdoor patios at eating establishments from being in public rights-of-way and parking areas.
“The current regulations create restrictions for businesses outside of the central business and commercial district, the special development commercial district, and the heritage mixed-use districts from utilizing their parking area and public areas for temporary patios,” said Colton Nickel, Okotoks development planner.
When council adopted its annual temporary patio program to permit restaurants and drinking establishments to set up outdoor spaces in parking lots or on sidewalks, it contradicted the land-use bylaw, he said.
Removing the contravening section from the land-use bylaw would allow the patios to be regulated through the program guidelines instead, he said.
“Outdoor seating areas would still need to be identified and approved either through a development permit for permanent patios or through the temporary patio program,” said Nickel.
The temporary patio program guidelines ensure conflict is minimized for adjacent businesses or pedestrians, he said. If there were issues with a proposed patio or unseen conflicts arose, he said the Town would work with the business to make the set-up work better for all parties.
“The beauty of it being a guideline-based program is there’s flexibility, there’s not a firm approval that this is how it is and this is what you get to stick with,” said Nickel. “The Town and the businesses have flexibility to require changes to it if a challenge was to arise.”
He said the Town’s new land-use bylaw will address the issue of temporary patios, but is not expected to come before council early enough for businesses to get a start on their outdoor areas to take advantage of warm weather in early May.
New COVID-19 regulations that have restricted in-person dining to outdoor spaces only added to the urgency of ensuring the temporary patio program was barrier-free, he said.
The new bylaw amendment will also open the doors for businesses outside of the downtown core to consider temporary patios, he said.
“We have seen demand outside the core,” said Nickel. “Other businesses that have been wanting to expand their patios, but technically they would be in conflict with the land-use bylaw.”
Coun. Ed Sands said amending the current land-use bylaw to allow for the temporary patio program to regulate outdoor spaces is the right move.
“These are unprecedented times but we are making movement, concession to being able to accomplish some things to keep the wheels of commerce and the wheels of life turning,” said Sands.