Toronto just declared war on sidewalk patios.
At a recent stakeholder consultation in part of the ongoing Sidewalk Cafes and Marketing Displays Review, Hamish Goodwin, Senior Policy and Research Officer of Municipal Licensing & Standards, outlined proposed fee changes that might greatly impact your ability to score prime patio real estate in the summers to come.
The bylaw harmonization efforts aims to,
Balanc[e] the needs of users and uses within the right-of-way, including provision for:
i) The safe and efficient movement of pedestrians, cyclists, transit vehicles and motorists
ii) Space for other street elements such as utilities, trees, snow and stormwater management, wayfinding, boulevard cafes, marketing and vending, and street furniture “
It sounds just peachy. There’s lots to like in this official plan: streamlining application processes, relaxing rules for setting up patios, the allowance for sidewalk patios in Scarborough (which under previous bylaws were altogether prohibited).
Then there’s the new patio permit fee hike ranging from 325% to 465%.
In the restaurant industry, where profit margins are already razor thin, it means that it will become more cost prohibitive than ever to operate a patio.
In the downtown core, approximately 710 sidewalk cafes would see annual fees increase from $83.42/m² up to at least $272.33/m² and as high as $390.73/m².
For your favourite local bar, cafe or restaurant with a 30/m² patio, it would mean the cost of operating a patio will increase from $2,502.60 to $11,721.90 annually. Yikes!
Sure, the current pre-amalgamation pricing structure is outdated.
For comparison’s sake, Goodwin supplied a “Market Value” for these swatches of grey concrete and repurposed parking spaces. A square metre of downtown sidewalk is apparently worth $473.61 FYI.
While I won’t argue that the city shouldn’t seek the best price on its hottest commodities, it made me curious – then enraged – to discover that the value of sidewalks is not uniformly applied in the public’s best interests.
That’s right. You can obstruct foot traffic in public areas for months on end with hoarding, construction vehicles, and cranes for less than the cost of Green P parking, but small businesses are being asked to pay more to lease space for a patio which enriches communities, serves the public, and which the City itself even triumphs as a boon to its vibrancy.
Somewhere buried in Goodwin’s presentation he calls permitting fees “a tool to incentivise uses…” which only makes this proposed 325%+ price hike sound all the more like a big f*ck you to small businesses and restaurants.