When threat of COVID-19 passes, Hamilton restaurants may take to the streets


Published May 13, 2020 at 8:53 pm

City councillors have voted in favour of a motion that could potentially allow for restaurants to expand their footprint beyond bricks and mortar once the danger of COVID-19 has passed.

City councillors have voted in favour of a motion that could potentially allow for restaurants to expand their footprint beyond bricks and mortar once the danger of COVID-19 has passed.

The motion, put forward by Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr and seconded by Mayor Fred Eisenberger, recommends that the City of Hamilton offer the opportunity for Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) and commercial areas where there are a lot of restaurants and cafes to create temporary, shared ‘Outdoor Dining Districts’ on streets or parking areas for Summer and Fall of 2020.

The intent behind the motion, which council weighed Wednesday (May 13) at their virtual meeting, is to help restaurants — one of the businesses hardest hit by closures due to the pandemic — get back on their feet when the province allows for reopening.

Farr, who is the Ward 2 councillor, an area that covers much of downtown Hamilton, noted that there are approximately 18,000 restaurant workers in the city who are currently unemployed and he feels that by increasing the footprint of an eatery will bring more workers back.

“The very sad reality is that many restaurants will not survive this,” he said, pointing to the recent closure of Emma’s Back Porch in Burlington as a sign of what is to come for many Hamilton businesses.

“Restaurants are among the most vulnerable businesses.”

The motion outlines that there would be an approval process that would involve consultation with local businesses, city staff and BIAs. Applications would go through the city’s Special Events Advisory Team (SEAT), who typically handle big events involving road closures or the use of city property.

The motion received some hearty endorsements from members in the community, which council took into consideration but there were some serious reservations among councillors.

Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark raised concerns about other businesses, specifically retail businesses, that are taking as big a hit as restaurants, and how they’re protected from having their business disrupted by these ‘dining districts.’

“We can’t just have the emphasis be on restaurants at the expense of other businesses,” he said.

He pushed for an amendment that would commit the approval process to ensure that all efforts be made to mitigate the impact on businesses surrounding the proposed districts.

Jason Thorne, the general manager of Hamilton’s Planning and Economic Development department, said those concerns would essentially be addressed through the approval process but agreed to reword some of the motion to ensure concerns from other businesses would inform the process.

The motion also calls for the city to support similar patios erected in private parking lots on commercial properties and to “ waive any requirement for site plan review for such locations
and waive enforcement of any zoning provisions related to parking supply, provided the
patios are created as temporary uses with no permanent fixtures.”

All applicants would have to adhere to proper sanitation standards and physical distancing recommendations laid out by public health.

There were some concerns voiced among some councillors that establishing these kinds of ‘districts’ might open a floodgate and restaurants might want to push for a more permanent situation.

Eisenberger assured councillors the establishment of these patios or districts will only be in effect until the fall of this year.

“This is strictly a temporary measure to help them get back on their feet,” he said.

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