Right-of-way patios in Ottawa’s ByWard Market will have a new closing time starting Friday night after city council passed a last-minute motion before breaking for the summer to standardize last calls in the popular tourist district.
City council passed a motion at the tail end of a marathon meeting on Wednesday to implement a 1 a.m. closing time for ByWard Market patios set up in the neighbourhood’s expanded right-of-way locations.
The motion standardizes the time for last call in the downtown district, where previously businesses were governed by a patchwork of regulation that saw some patios close at 11 p.m. while adjacent restaurants could stay open until 2 a.m.
City staff had crafted a motion to put all bars on a level playing field after numerous bylaw infractions this past weekend related to noise and public health concerns.
Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury brought forward the motion, which included an original closing time of 12 a.m. for patios, on Wednesday on behalf of staff.
Mayor Jim Watson and other councillors said the proposal prompted backlash over the course of Wednesday’s meeting from ByWard Market businesses who sent messages claiming they weren’t properly consulted on the last-minute motion.
Stephen Willis, the city’s general manager of planning, explained that staff brought forward the motion as an attempt to gain control over the situation at bars and restaurants during city council’s planned summer break.
The motion included a clause that gives city staff the ability to change the closing hours for right-of-way patios and revoke permits for operators deemed non-compliant with public health directives. These powers extend across the city, not only in the ByWard Market.
Willis said staff had “no evidence” to back up the midnight closing hour, but requested a standardized time to help bylaw officers with enforcement. He also noted concerns that patrons in Gatineau would “flood the Market” after the 12 a.m. last call across the river.
Staff had planned to reconcile the “hodgepodge” of closing hours for right-of-way patios after a fulsome consultation via Ottawa’s transportation committee, but the coronavirus pandemic delayed action on this and staff determined a stopgap measure was necessary.
Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney, chair of the transportation committee, moved a motion to replace Fleury’s with a new 1 a.m. closing time, viewing the extra hour as a compromise to satisfy businesses trying to get back on their feet after the coronavirus closures.
He said a more permanent solution would hopefully come in the fall.
“The ultimate goal is to fix the situation, level the playing field for all of our businesses that are out there that are suffering right now,” Tierney said.
Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper expressed discomfort with the idea of council debating and arbitrarily deciding when bars should close before adjourning for the summer.
“What I’m hearing right now is we’re trying to create bar hours on the fly. We need to have a broader consultation in order to find out what the hours should be,” he said.
Despite moving the original motion, Fleury came down against Tierney’s compromise to keep bars open for an extra hour each night.
He said council would be “sending the wrong message” surrounding public health in the pandemic, citing instances of bars emerging as hotspots for coronavirus infection in other jurisdictions of the city.
Council ultimately approved Tierney’s “compromise” motion, which will go into effect on Friday night.