Hamilton looks at extending COVID-era patio program until Halloween 2021

It's less about predicting the virus and more about giving businesses stability, says the city's head of planning and economic development.

Councillors will also vote on a plan that would see businesses install tents and outdoor heaters

Two clients sit on the patio at La Maison Greque restaurant in Montreal on Monday, June 22. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The city is looking at expanding its pandemic-era patio program for restaurants and bars until Halloween of next year to deal with COVID-19.

Hamilton city council's planning committee will discuss on Tuesday extending its outdoor dining districts program until Oct. 31, 2021. The program lets business owners put temporary patios on private and city property to deal with physical distancing measures because of COVID-19.

But that was only for summer and fall of this year. If approved, this move will not only let businesses apply to extend their patios through the winter, but allow them on street again starting May 1, 2021 too. A separate vote on Tuesday would also allow more bars and restaurants to put up temporary tents.

Jason Thorne, general manager of planning and economic development, says the extension to next Halloween is less about predicting the virus, and more about giving businesses the consistency to plan.

"It's important to send a signal to those business owners that this is something they can count on," he said.

Among the businesses surveyed by the city of Hamilton, a little more than half said they were interested in a winter patio. (City of Hamilton)

Since the patio program launched earlier this year, the report shows, 111 businesses have added patios on private property, and 39 on city sidewalks. Only one patio application — a business in west Hamilton — was denied.

With this plan, businesses would still be able to have patios in winter, the report says, but likely not on streets, except when the whole street is closed. The report says some businesses are planning to winterize their patios with tents and outdoor heaters.

A survey of businesses shows patios are important to keeping them going. Of 83 respondents who answered a city survey, 89 per cent said temporary outdoor patios were "extremely important" to their businesses this year. More than half wanted to keep their patios through the winter, and almost all of them wanted the program to exist next spring and summer too. 

As for tents, the report recommends that a business not need a building permit if the tent is up to 60 square metres, not attached to a building and three metres from other structures.

This chart shows where patios have been approved during the COVID-19 pandemic. (City of Hamilton)

The move comes as COVID-19 case numbers are surging faster, and Premier Doug Ford says Ontario is in its second wave of the virus.

While in August, rates slowed to two or three new cases per day, Hamilton is seeing more than 10 new cases per day this week. Last weekend, it saw the largest increase since May.

As of Wednesday, 103 people were known to have COVID-19 in Hamilton. Overall, the case total was 1,160, an increase of more than 10 from Tuesday. 

Forty-six people have died from COVID-19 in Hamilton and 1,011 have recovered.