Coronavirus: Ontario municipalities looking to expand restaurant patios onto public spaces

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WATCH ABOVE: Toronto, Markham, and Hamilton are getting ready to expand restaurant patios onto sidewalks and empty parking lots to help with physical distancing. Kamil Karamali reports – May 13, 2020

The cities of Toronto, Markham and Hamilton are working on municipal legislation that would permit restaurants to expand their patios into neighbouring parking lots and sidewalks to allow their customers to practise physical distancing.

“I think that it could be a lifeline for some of the restaurants, especially in light of the fact that they will probably be required to have tables further apart inside and outside,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory.

He said he’s asked Transportation Services to find possible locations where expanding patio spaces would be possible and is expecting a report “fairly soon.”

READ MORE: Restaurants may never go back to ‘normal’ after COVID-19, experts say

“Just as we did on King Street for restaurant patios when we rolled out the King Street pilot project, I think we can sweep away some of the red tape and get this done as a way of making the city friendly for everybody but also our friends in the restaurant business,” Tory said.

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Meanwhile, Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti said his municipality is ready to allow patios to expand to “extra spaces like parking lots,” as soon as the province gives the green light for restaurants to open at limited capacity.

He adds that the city can facilitate the corresponding zoning requests, but that widening or adding patio spaces onto public property also requires an easing of liquor licence restrictions.

READ MORE: Some countries that reopened saw upticks in COVID-19 cases — what can Canada learn?

Serving alcohol on the public property portion of the newly expanded patios would require a temporary liquor licence that would expire after 14 days and that can only be renewed four times per year.

“I’m calling on the provincial government and Alcohol and Gaming Commission to extend their 14-day temporary liquor licence beyond the 14 days,” Scarpitti said.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous that a restaurant would only be allowed 14 days,” Scarpitti added. “The reality is we need to make it easier for businesses and not harder.”

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario told Global News that it “would need to consult with government along with key stakeholder groups, including municipalities, in order to assess the possibility of any change to this regulation.”

READ MORE: Hamilton to consider creation of ‘outdoor dining districts’ when restaurants reopen

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The commission didn’t specify whether it was currently in the process of those consultations.

City of Hamilton councillor Jason Farr presented a motion Wednesday to council requesting that restaurants and cafes have the opportunity to create “Outdoor Dining Districts” on city streets or parking lots.

The motion highlights that restaurant owners can submit applications that would be reviewed. It also says the city would only approve those restaurants that have the capacity to expand to outdoor spaces without having a negative impact on pedestrian safety, accessibility, emergency services, and public transit.

Scarpitti adds that the City of Markham will also have a stringent process to see which businesses are eligible for a patio expansion onto public property.

“Safety has to be a first priority, not just with COVID-19, but obviously the safety of customers as well, whatever the conditions are,” Scarpitti said.

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