Patios could stay open until 2 a.m. starting in April
City councillors considering expanding space and time patios can operate on city property
- Transportation committee approved the rules for the upcoming patio season at its March 3 meeting.
- Current Ontario rules only allow establishments to stay open to 2 a.m. in the "green" zone.
In an effort to help the beleaguered hospitality sector recover from the pandemic, the city is proposing to let restaurants and bars expand their patios and stay open longer during this year's outdoor dining season.
Members of council's transportation committee next week will consider staff recommendations to allow the city to close streets for expanded patio use, allow patios on city property to say open until 2 a.m., and will waive most fees for the 2021 season.
It's a move welcomed by the restaurant industry, which has been hard hit by the COVID-19 era's physical distancing rules and on-again-and-off-again business closures.
"We have a long road to recovery in this sector," said Sarah Chown, the managing partner of Metropolitain Brasserie and chair of the Ottawa branch of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association.
She said that the industry expects that physical distancing protocols will be in place for some time, and restaurants need more space to accommodate patrons.
"Anything that the city can do to help our businesses operate with more capacity, we welcome," Chown told CBC News. "So whether that is expanding … into the street or the extended hours on those right-of-way patios, I think it's important."
She said there's also a "fairness factor" in allowing patios on city property to stay open until 2 a.m., as that is the closing time for patios on private property.
Councillors will be discussing and voting on the following proposals for the upcoming summer patio season that begins April 1:
- Waive most fees related to patios on city rights of way (ROW), such as sidewalks, on-street parking spaces, and roadways. A two-metre path for pedestrians must be maintained.
- Allow ROW patios to stay open until 2 a.m., an hour later than last year.
- Allow staff to close streets at the request of a Business Improvement Area (BIA); in places where a BIA doesn't exist, three-quarters of the businesses of each affected city block must agree to the closure.
- Allow retailers to run pop-up stands and patios on terms similar to restaurants.
- Allow restaurants to have unlimited "café seating" — the two-seat bistro tables usually set up against a building — as long as space permits.
'Big party space'
While businesses and many patrons look forward to outdoor drinking and dining, some residents are concerned about the crowds and noise it could bring. This is particularly true in the ByWard Market area, where many of the city's ROW patios are located.
Last summer, when the city extended the patio spaces and hours until 1 a.m., the market was "a zoo," according to Norman Moyer, president of the Lowertown Community Association.
"It turned into just one big party space," he said. "It was not attractive for residents. It was frankly not attractive for people that were visiting either. They pretended that there would be room for pedestrians on the street — there really wasn't."
He said the problems are more evident in narrow streets like Clarence Street.
Noise is also an issue of concern.
According to the city staff report, only 17 official noise complaints last year were related to patios on city property. But Moyer suggested that residents often don't call in noise complaints because by the time bylaw officers show up, the brouhaha is over.
He said he has "almost zero" faith in bylaw's ability to control the noise, unless officers are stationed in busy places to proactively enforce the rules.
The restaurant industry would also welcome bylaw monitoring the situation, said Chown.
"We need to keep the residents happy, too."
The transportation committee, where the public can speak to the issue, meets next Wednesday.