Coronavirus: Toronto considers changing by-laws to allow restaurant patios to be open in winter

Toronto’s Planning and Housing Committee is considering changes to existing zoning by-laws at its Tuesday meeting, which would be necessary to allow patios to operate into the winter amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic, the City has eased zoning rules necessary to allow restaurants to expand outdoors. With the incoming cold weather and indoor dining restrictions, it has been considering ways to allow the dining industry to continue outdoor service.

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“Like in the summer, the objective is to get this done quickly, for those who are interested in doing it,” said Mayor John Tory. “Because they need the help and the seats and the opportunity to take in some revenue now, not months from now.”

A report before the City recommends temporary easing of zoning restrictions on the Planning Act. The proposed by-laws will replace the Ministerial Zoning Order issued by the province, which will expire on Nov. 16.

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The temporary by-laws will continue to ease restrictions on outdoor patios for bars and restaurants during the winter months, if they choose to operate one.

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The by-laws would allow businesses a modest increase to the maximum size of outdoor patios and would remove restrictions that might prevent a patio from being located in front of buildings. They have particular consideration for non-residential properties with dedicated surface parking in front of a building. It would allow patios in these places, without being affected by parking requirements.

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The temporary by-laws would expire on May 25, 2021, at the conclusion of the Victoria Day long weekend.

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“What we’re dealing with here is others that can stay longer on sidewalks, on private property, and other places,” said Tory.

He said along with the added flexibility, there will be a waiver of fees for those approved. He said there will be other requirements in place to keep people safe, adding if they are able to find the resources and determination to do it.

Unlike the CafeTO program, which allowed restaurants and bars to expand into the curb lane of traffic, the proposed changes will be not take up any space on the road. Tory said he believed the curb lane patios would start being removed as early as this week and will all be out by mid-November.

“The bigger challenge we face is we have to plow the roads when it starts to snow,” said Tory, who lamented the fact they couldn’t remain. He noted in addition to keeping up with the demand for snow removal, the curb lane patios would pose a safety risk in the winter.

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After passing the zoning hurdles, the recommendations need to be approved the by Executive Committee on Wednesday, who will deal with transportation and fees. City Council will be asked to consider it as a motion at its meeting next week.

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“In the meantime, I think the restaurant owners will be able to see what they can do,” said Tory. In many cases, they wouldn’t be required to do much more, because it’s mostly an extension of existing rules.

“In terms of people who might be putting up tents or using heaters and so on, they will then have to go through a process which mainly has to do with safety,” he continued.

Tory said the city is working with transportation officials to make sure sidewalks can be a location for patios, as well.

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While the City is doing what it can to help the dining industry, Tory also said he met with the hotel industry to discuss aid it needs.

Tory said he is continuing to advocate for more aid from other levels of government for the industry, which he said is suffering a liquidity problem.

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