Ottawa patio operators poised to get financial break from city

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Ottawa businesses that operate patios on municipal property could see their summer rental fees slashed by 22 per cent under a plan endorsed by the city’s transportation committee Wednesday.

However, the proposal – which still needs the approval of full city council – imposes new accessibility regulations that some business advocates say could force some patios to close unless they receive an exemption.

 

Under the new fee schedule, patio operators will pay a monthly rate that works out to 92 cents per square metre per day during the summer, down from the current $1.18 per square metre.

From November to March, that drops to 30 cents per square metre per day.

“That’s a huge win,” says Lori Mellor, the executive director of Preston Street BIA, adding the move will help restaurants, bars and cafes in Little Italy continue to offer outdoor seating. However, she says physical space constraints limit the opportunities for additional patios along Preston Street.

Other changes to the bylaw include allowing outdoor speakers as well as table umbrellas to hang over the sidewalk. Additionally, the city wants raised patios to comply with accessibility standards by installing ramps and leaving at least two metres of sidewalk for pedestrians to traverse.

“It can be very frustrating trying to get around in a wheelchair if there’s sandwich boards, trees and garbage bins,” said Coun. Jody Mitic, according to Metro. “Patios are great – I love patios – but we need to make our city more accessible.”

However, Ms. Mellor says the ramp requirement is “not realistic” for some existing raised patio operators who have already paid architectural, application and construction fees to build their current outdoor seating areas.

She hopes these patios can be grandfathered into the new rules on a case-by-case basis.

Ms. Mellor says it’s a misconception that businesses with patios see a dramatic increase in sales. When it’s nice outside and a restaurant or bar has a patio, few patrons will choose to sit inside.

“To maintain their sales volume, they have to go to the extra expense of building a patio,” Ms. Mellor says.

A few blocks away, Zachary Dayler, the executive director of the Wellington West BIA, says a patio is part of a restaurant's marketing efforts and helps animate the front of an establishment, giving it a lively appearance and feel.

“For Canadians, (sitting on a patio) is really enticing. So, for a business owner, anything to get that extra bump in sales is a big thing.”

Mr. Dayler says many businesses along Wellington Street West that have patios built their outdoor seating on private property and would not be directly affected by the proposed rules.

He says the all-in costs of establishing a patio are still “pretty expensive,” but he adds he’s glad to see the decline in rental rates.