As local restaurants put their patios away for the winter, they are being assured they can bring them out again in the spring.
Councillors decided Monday that to help restaurants continue to recover from the pandemic, permits for temporary patios will be extended for another year.
Restaurant owners wanting patios on public sidewalks and parking spaces will be required to reapply for next season.
At Monday evening’s planning committee meeting, councillors voted to extend the program until Jan. 1, 2023, and direct staff to provide recommendations on the potential continuation of the program beyond that date.
There were questions of how long it will be considered a temporary program, and also discussion of how to proceed if there is a decision to make them permanent, including making them aesthetically more pleasing with something other than cement barriers for safety.
Coun. Eriwn Wiens suggested patios be considered as part of the future tourism strategy. “I’d rather the plan be more proactive than reactive,” he said.
Patios will be a part of the tourism strategy discussion, CAO Marnie Cluckie said, which is a priority for town staff. “There are a number of things we need to look at, and we’re committed to doing so.”
“There is no question in my mind that patios are here to stay — people like them, on Queen Street, in Virgil and other areas,” said Lord Mayor Betty Disero.
The temporary permits were a way to allow them to pop up quickly, she said, adding she’d like to see something more permanent through a zoning process.
She also has some concerns about whether reducing parking spaces for patios will lead to problems of parking shortages.
Planning director Craig Larmour responded that in the Old Town commercial district, the policy is for businesses to pay cash in lieu of parking if they don’t have the required number of spaces. In other parts of town they can apply for exemptions,.
“I’d like to look at a streamlined process for zoning for patios,” so business owners can begin going through that process sooner rather than later,” before reaching the Jan. 1, 2023 deadline, Disero said.
“People like them, they’re helpful, they bring a busyness and a sense of people wanting to be on Queen Street, sitting watching people go by. I think they’re a benefit to Queen Street.”
Disero wants to have a look at incorporating them into a broader sidewalk and how that affects parking, traffic and loading areas, and suggested beginning to talk to business owners and residents in the new year, to start preparing for them before the tourism strategy is complete. “I’d like to see what our next step is.”
Coun. Gary Burroughs reminded councillors the temporary patios were allowed for restaurants to expand when numbers were limited inside restaurants.
“I think we need to move cautiously to suddenly change the whole of Queen Street that everybody’s come to know and love,” he said.
Change is good if it’s needed, he added, reminding councillors that patios will impact parking, and even at a cost of $50,000 per spot, “there is nowhere we can buy parking.”
Councillors voted unanimously in favour of the patio program being extended to Jan. 1, 2023.