Hamilton to make temporary sidewalk patios permanent


Published February 23, 2022 at 11:15 pm

Hamilton to make temporary sidewalk patios permanent
Hamilton's elected leadership has voted to permanently allow temporary patios throughout the city, although it appears disability justice advocates were not fully consulted prior to the vote. (Anthony Urciuoli/intheHammer)

Hamilton’s elected leadership has voted to permanently allow temporary patios throughout the city, although it appears disability justice advocates were not fully consulted prior to the vote.

On Wednesday, Hamilton city council essentially voted to twin two outdoor dining programs. One was created in 2020, during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the city also had a similar five-year-old pilot project. The issue drew 18 communications to the city from restauranteurs, business improvement areas (BIAs) and disability justice advocates.

Ultimately, the motion passed after Ward 2 Coun. Jason Farr suggested an amendment intended to be more sensitive of concerns raised city’s Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities (ACPD). City staff will continue to consult with ACPD and provide an annual information report to council including information on program accessibility.

The application process for patios will open on Thursday (Feb. 24).

Restauranteurs Jason and Rachel Hofing, who own RELAY Coffee Roasters on King William St., said the dining district program had been a lifesaver for their business. RELAY is on the stretch of King William Street between James and Hughson that is closed to vehicle traffic.

“The street closure, and our ability to seat guests outdoors in the street has been vital to how we operate and, during the warm months, has taken the edge off some of the difficulties of functioning during a pandemic,” the Hofings wrote. “The street patio was great at drawing new people downtown and helped to create a vibrant city that people loved living in.”

Bettina Schormann, proprietor of Earth to Table: Bread Bar, said the patios drew about $100,000 in additional business in 2021 at the eatery’s two Hamilton locations.

“The presence of the patio also brings a summer vibe to the street, increasing the perception of value to the customer,” Schormann wrote.

Several members of the ACPD and other residents who live with restricted mobility or vision loss said they are worried more patios will block their free movement around the city. While no one was opposed to having more patios on general principle, they worried that council might be rushing to a decision without proper consultation.

“I am not against sidewalk patios as I have often used them myself, but they take away clear passage and not being able to follow Urban Braille,” Paula Kilburn, a Hamiltonian who lives with vision loss, said in a letter sent to Ward 4 Coun. Sam Merulla and shared with council.

Urban Braille is a system of design that uses colour and texture contrasts in the design of public spaces.

A letter submitted by APCD committee member Kim Nolan through her husband, Tim Nolan, emphasized that the lack of consultation could set a bad precedent.

“I completely enjoy the opportunity to dine outdoors,” Kim Nolan wrote. “I am not asking Council to scrap the program, rather, I ask (city) council to not rush to decide on this matter, leaving accessible design of outdoor facilities in limbo. By rushing to decide on this matter now Council affirms that the meagre effort of (planning) staff to consult ACPD on this initiative and any future staff report for that matter need only be superficial. A decision on this matter now by council to adopt this program without reasonable and obligatory consideration for full accessibility sends a message to staff absolving them of any future obligation to consult ACPD meaningfully on matters affecting accessibility.”

City business improvement areas officer Julia Davis said patio applicants are responsible for meeting requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). Davis told council the COVID-19 patio program garnered about ten complaints over the course of 2020 and 2021.

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