Coronavirus relief: Ottawa council extends temporary patio rules into winter months

People sit on a bar's patio built on top of the sidewalk and street parking spaces, in the ByWard Market in Ottawa, on Sunday, July 12, 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Ottawa city council is extending its measures that allow patios to encroach into the sidewalk and parking spots in front of restaurants, an effort to stretch the city’s coronavirus relief to capture the fleeting few days of warm weather remaining in 2020.

Council passed a motion at its meeting Wednesday to extend its temporary zoning bylaw that allows patios and pop-up retail stands in the city’s right-of-way spaces until the end of the year.

It also waived patio fees for the winter season, save for the licence application charge.

These measures have proven popular for businesses struggling to get back on their feet during the novel coronavirus pandemic this summer: more than 300 patios have popped up across Ottawa this year compared to fewer than 100 last year.

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Mayor Jim Watson said the city’s cold weather means the winter patios surely won’t prove as popular for residents as they were this past summer, but helping businesses welcome patrons in an outdoor setting for as long as possible is an attempt to give them “every fighting chance to survive.”

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“It’s not the cure-all,” he said. “If it’s 30-below, you’re not going to be having a fine dining experience outside, that’s for sure.”

The winter comes with more challenges than just the colder weather, however.

Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper asked if city staff were prepared to be more active in terms of snow removal and sidewalk maintenance this year if patios and expanded cafe seating is part of Ottawa’s planned economic recovery.

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Watson said this question has already come up amid discussions with his economic recovery task force, and staff have already agreed to enhanced snow clearing efforts this year.

He also said that city staff will consult with ward councillors on extended patio applications this winter to avoid situations where snow buildup and patios have the potential to become accessibility issues for pedestrians.

City staff also said Wednesday that any business owner applying for a permit will be obligated to clear snow from right-of-way patio spaces.

Stephen Willis, the city’s general manager of planning, infrastructure and economic development, also noted that many businesses are likely to return to some of their spring strategies for survival when the pandemic had forced retailers to embrace takeout and curbside pickup options.

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The coronavirus pandemic hit Ottawa’s retail and hospitality industries especially hard, with a combined 26,500 jobs lost in these sectors between March and June. Just over 10,000 of those jobs in those local industries were recovered in July, according to a memo sent from city staff on Wednesday.

City council also approved a motion Wednesday that will see the Tanger Outlets allowed to open on statutory holidays.

While some councillors contended that holidays were an important relief for retail workers and the middle of a pandemic might not be the best time to invite shoppers from outside the city, a majority of city council voted in favour of the proposal, which was pitched as an opportunity to inject tourism dollars into some of Ottawa’s struggling retailers.

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