Okotoks businesses have the option of expanding to the outdoors through the winter months.
The Town has extended its temporary patio program, which was launched in the spring to help businesses adapt to changes in COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines set out by Alberta Health Services as they reopened.
“It allowed businesses to socially distance and spread out a bit more with their patios,” said Colton Nickel, development planner for the Town of Okotoks.
As cooler weather and winter months approach, the Town has decided to extend the patio program to allow businesses – retail as well as food and beverage establishments – to set up temporary structures outside their stores, similar to the glass igloo-style enclosures set up by Bow Valley Ranche Restaurant in Calgary, he said.
“People can think outside the box and proceed how they want with temporary structures to keep their patios up through those winter months,” said Nickel.
The program has been extended until May 1, 2021, and allows business owners to fill out a declaration online indicating their plans with a sample or drawing of the structure and its intended location on the property without having to proceed with a full development permit application, he said.
Town planners will look to ensure structures are temporary and meet guidelines and codes, but there are no formal approvals or permits required, he said.
Patio expansions could include moving into the business parking lot, like Hub Town Brewing and Sweetgrass Deli & Eatery did this summer, or having temporary structures on Town sidewalks, like the Elks Club farmers\ market on Saturdays, he said.
“If they’re on Town property like sidewalks then we just need a copy of their insurance as well to keep on file,” said Nickel.
The temporary patio is a pilot program for this year, but he said it could become an annual summer offering if the business community, residents and other stakeholders show positive response to it after May.
He said the program is open to any existing business and not exclusive to restaurant patios.
The Town has had conversations with Alberta Liquor Gaming and Cannabis (AGLC) to ensure establishments can have liquor licences on their expanded patios as well, he said.
“As long as it’s clearly delineated they can work with AGLC for those approvals,” said Nickel.
Lisa Watts, co-owner of Hub Town Brewing, said the temporary patio program was integral in seeing the business succeed through COVID recovery.
“That gave us the capacity we needed to survive the COVID restrictions,” said Watts.
She said the parking lot patio Hub Town opened through the summer was approved for more than 300 people, though with COVID restrictions they were only able to seat between 80 and 90 in the space.
“It still saved our lives, it still gave us enough seating to pay the bills all through the summer, and it gave people a place to go that was safe and fun,” said Watts. “It’s been a huge blessing.”
She said the Hub Town patio will stay up for as long as patrons want to use the outdoor space, though they haven’t decided whether to invest in temporary structures to make it winter-friendly, due to high cost.
Currently they’re expanding the second level of the interior of the business and hoping to have that open before snowfall, she said.
“Once we’re done that, and we understand what our ability is for expanding the patio, then we’ll make some final decisions,” said Watts. “We do have some great ideas, it’s just financially some of the things you have to do to make it a usable space in the winter are limiting.”
She said they’re glad to see the program extended for businesses to take advantage of extra space during the winter as COVID restrictions still limit indoor capacities.
While Hub Town hasn’t decided whether it will put up any structures, she said they do have one idea to help combat the cooler temperatures.
“We’re just going to start telling people to BYOB – Bring Your Own Blanket – and we’ll keep the patio open as long as they want it,” said Watts.