As winter looms on the horizon, many of our local businesses are looking to plan ahead and find ways to increase their capacity during the snowy season while our City and Region remain in Stage 3 for the time-being.
This morning, I sent a letter to our Burlington MPP Jane McKenna laying out some preliminary steps the City of Burlington is taking to find ways to assist our local businesses.
October 23, 2020
Dear MPP McKenna,
Thank you for reaching out yesterday regarding winter planning for our local restaurants. This topic is top of mind for myself, council and city staff right now, so your letter was well-timed.
One of the things that has most impressed me during this pandemic is how our community has rallied around our local businesses. Burlingtonians love our small businesses and entrepreneurs, and “shop local” has long been a way of life for many residents.
The pandemic has created many challenges for small businesses owners, particularly those in the hospitality industry. When restaurants closed for indoor dining temporarily this spring along with many other businesses, our community jumped in with countless take-out orders and gift card purchases. The City of Burlington created free 20-minute parking in our downtown core to help make take-out a little easier in an area with limited parking, and those dedicated spots are still in place today.
As the pandemic response progressed, and restaurants re-opened, Provincial orders responsibly created the need to space out patrons to maintain the physical distancing our health experts recommended, so the City removed patio permit fees and worked with restaurant owners (who also worked with their landlords when applicable) to fast-track patio expansions on both public and private property. As you noted, the provincial government also supported licensed restaurants and bars to temporarily extend their outdoor patio spaces, and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) waived the application process for adding or extending a patio for license holders. Thanks to collaboration on all parts, when patios opened, residents flocked to safely raise a glass together and enjoy a good meal with friends & families under the sun.
As the weather is now getting colder, many of our local restaurants are proactively planning for the winter months – thinking about ways they can continue to offer spacious in-person dining to keep people safe while maintaining their livelihoods and retaining their employees through this challenging time. This planning is made more challenging by the fact that COVID-19 numbers are on the rise across our province and modified Stage 2 restrictions imposed by the Province have temporarily suspended indoor dining in nearby hot-spots. While we hope to avoid that similar fate, we acknowledge that we don’t have a way to know for sure if that will happen in Halton right now.
Assuming our amazing community can keep working together and avoid becoming a hot-spot, the issue then remains that Canadian winters pose unique challenges for patios that summer did not.
Firstly, many patios are looking for ways to layer-on enclosed and heated tenting to keep that valuable extra floor space for diners. There are new factors to consider when winterized tent spaces are erected:
- the use of electric or propane heaters and any fire or safety hazard they may create based on their size and proximity to other items, including the tent itself, along with any related ventilation needs and outdoor electrical cord placement; and
- the inevitable snow load that will fall on their roofs and how that can be structurally supported to keep diners and staff safe inside them.
Secondly, some of our patios (especially those downtown) expanded onto our public sidewalks this summer and we were able to create safe walking spaces in nearby curb lanes to help accommodate that. When the snow begins to fall, the City will need to start clearing snow and ice from both the sidewalks and the roads in order to keep people moving safely throughout our city. While we will look for ways to balance those needs with the desire to support our local restaurants, there is a high likelihood that, much like the City of Toronto indicated earlier this week, some or all sidewalk patios may need to be removed for the winter months.
City staff and council are evaluating all these factors, along with the request to formally extend patio season further from the already extended date of Jan. 1, 2021, and whether permit fees for large tents will be waived as well. Council will be discussing the matter, including staff input and recommendations, in a few weeks at the upcoming Corporate Services, Strategy, Risk & Accountability (CSSRA) Committee meeting on Nov. 12, 2020.
We will reach out to your office in the coming days should there be a need for any clarity and support around provincial standards and regulations relating to these matters and would appreciate your advocacy on our behalf if needed.
With all that said, we know time is of the essence for our restaurants and many are looking to make plans and get answers as soon as possible. Time-sensitive questions around tent structures, permits and safety standards can be directed to Robert Catherall in our Building & Bylaw Department, who will do his best to provide guidance and advice to local business owners in a timely manner. Robert can be reached at Robert.email@example.com.
I will be sure to share this letter on my own blog and social media accounts later today to help get this information out to the broader public, including restaurant owners, while also sharing the letter itself to my fellow members of Council and our valued contacts at the Burlington Restaurant Association.
Again, thank you for reaching out on this timely and important issue and for being a supportive partner in helping our local restaurants in these extraordinary times.
Mayor Marianne Meed Ward
City of Burlington
cc: Councillor Kelvin Galbraith
cc: Councillor Lisa Kearns
cc: Councillor Rory Nisan
cc: Councillor Shawna Stolte
cc: Councillor Paul Sharman
cc: Councillor Angelo Bentivegna
cc: Andrea Dodd and Ted Kindos, Burlington Restaurant Association