Licensed patio owners are presenting a united front this week in response to an unforeseen police crackdown on patio closing times.
Between 25 and 30 industry stakeholders met Wednesday morning to discuss last weekend’s enforcement of earlier closing times and decided to stay positive and open to a resolution with police and the bylaw department before the busy Canada Day long weekend gets underway.
They are hoping police will allow them to continue business as usual, which means keeping patios open until 12:30 a.m. with last call at midnight. This has been the unofficial closing time for years even though it’s not technically by the books.
"Closing the patios early goes against everything we’re trying to do by building a guest experience," said patio owner Chris Quinlan of Behind the Grind.
"I understand that the reasoning behind it is they’re trying to combat the noise issues in the village, but the fact is that part of being in a resort is that you have patio experiences for our guests."
The furor over closing times was sparked last weekend after letters were hand-delivered by police to several patio owners.
Lawrence Black, at Black’s Pub, was taken aback by the letter, which outlined that last call is at 10 p.m. for patios and everyone must be inside and all windows closed by 11 p.m.
"All of a sudden out of nowhere there’s a patio issue," said Black.
"I was kind of surprised actually because in all honesty I don’t really see a problem with the patios. It’s a controlled area and when people are on the patios we have control of them. There aren’t noise issues."
Black, along with other patios owners, has been following the "unwritten" rule of patio closing times of 12:30 a.m.
Police Inspector Norm McPhail said those later hours came under review after a police debriefing regarding the May long weekend.
"One of the things that was noticed by the village foot patrol was that the patios appeared to be extending beyond reasonable hours, or at least the hours that were established," said the inspector.
"We’re in the situation right now with some of the owners feeling that they actually have a right to be extended beyond the 11 o’clock time. So we have to back that up (and) deal with it. There’s no interest in terms of writing bylaw infractions for anything that happened in the past but in terms of the future it’s going to be very clearly set out – this is the acceptable time and this is how business will be conducted in the village.
"It’s existing policy that’s being more strictly enforced."
The policy is laid out not only in the municipal noise bylaw, which states amplified music or speech is objectionable between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m., but also in the patio license agreement among several patio owners. That agreement outlines that activities in the licensed area can take place between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m.
Still, the sudden enforcement of the closing times, particularly the week before one of the busiest summer weekends, was cause for concern. It is not clear at this time how much the earlier patio closures would impact the businesses from a financial standpoint.
"You couldn’t ask for a worse time for it," said Quinlan.
"I just can’t see where you could possibly do anything that would be more detrimental to a) business and b) the overall experience of the resort."
McPhail is aware of the level of frustration among the patio owners in the last week. That’s why a special stakeholder meeting will be held today (Thursday, June 29) to discuss the patio operations in the village.
"The bylaws will be enforced if people are not in keeping with what the bylaws are," said the inspector.
"We’re trying to, for the policing side of things, lessen the amount of noise in the village.
"As a group of people together we can resolve this and we can be more effective with it. If we start breaking apart into silos it’s not going to bring this issue to a resolve that’s going to satisfy everyone."
McPhail called the early patio closures one part of the puzzle in solving the long-standing noise issues in the village.
Other parts, he said, are dealing with bar lineups, dealing with the flow of people that come out of the bars at one time, and also addressing some of the rowdier guests coming to Whistler for discounted hotel rooms.
Black said noise would always be an issue in the resort because of the way it’s designed with bars and hotel accommodation side by side.
But cracking down on patios may be misguided.
"It’s terrible timing, not just for the business but for our guests," he said.
"The guests are sitting out on the patios because they want to be there. That’s part of the whole atmosphere. That’s why they have the squares, like the squares in Europe – everyone sits out there in the summertime."
Today’s meeting at the conference centre will bring police, the municipality and patio managers together to discuss the issue.