Toronto to allow restaurants and bars to expand their patios onto sidewalks, streets

Jun 4 2020, 8:02 am

City officials are working at “wartime speed” to expand Toronto patio space so that, when the Province deems it appropriate, restaurant and bar owners can act fast.

Mayor John Tory announced on Thursday the development of CafeTO, a new program designed to help the restaurant and bar industries restart after the havoc wreaked by COVID-19.

Tory described CafeTO as a “quick-start program that will make it easier for restaurant and bar owners to open patios, to expand patios, and to access additional space for physical distancing.”

The program will provide more outdoor dining and drinking areas and areas by identifying space in “the public right-of-way,” and expediting the current application and permitting process for sidewalk cafes.

“I know there’s a tremendous amount of interest in this program from restaurant owners and bar owners, and from the BIAs — we’ve actually had dozens and dozens of inquiries about this since we indicated that we were putting a program together,” Tory said.

“Since I first raised the idea we’ve heard from a lot of individual establishments and a dozen BIAs expressing interest in doing this so that means, by definition, it will be something not confined to downtown and will happen in different areas of the city where the BIAs think it can be made to work.”

The action team behind CurbTO includes voices from the areas of transportation, municipal licensing and standards, economic development planning, and strategic communications.

Also, Tory said, the city has been in active discussion with the Province to work through regulatory details.

The mayor said that after a “good conversation” with Attorney General of Ontario Doug Downey, who is responsible for the AGCO, most of the discussions with the Province regarding aspects related to liquor laws are “largely resolved.”

That discussion, Tory said, and similar conversations have revolved around “a mutual desire to cut red tape,” and ensure that these patio expansions “can be done on a very simple, straightforward basis.”

This includes the waiving of patio fees for the expanded space. Also, planning has already been undertaken for the reallocation of curb lanes of some streets, in appropriate areas, for patio space.

“I can tell you from that conversation with [Downey] that the Province is keen to support this initiative and will be taking steps accordingly,” the mayor said.

Officials are getting ready now so the city can act quickly, “with lightning speed,” to help restaurants and bars navigate this program as soon as the necessary provincial order is lifted.

“It isn’t clear at this moment exactly when that will happen,” said Tory. “I’m hearing reports that it will be part of the Stage 2 reopening, but we have no confirmation of that.”

On Wednesday, the mayor said the initiative for patio expansion is one he believes will be “of scale, and therefore very helpful to businesses which are struggling in this sector.”

Tory announced his appeal for more space for Toronto’s restaurants in mid-May. The concept is not unlike what’s taking shape in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania; the municipality recently announced that the city is set to become “one giant outdoor cafe.”

Jennifer Keesmaat, CEO of The Keesmaat Group and former chief city planner for Toronto, told Daily Hive that the use of public space in a “fundamentally different way” is what makes Vilnius’ proposal so profound.

“Let’s flip around how we use the infrastructure of the city,” she said, “so we can protect the things that matter.”

Tory commended the speed with which city staff have navigated this action plan on Thursday morning.

“They’ve done it with what I describe during this pandemic as wartime-speed, because we knew that this is an industry that’s been terribly hard-hit, and we also knew that it’s an industry that’s very important to people and to their enjoyment of summer and to their enjoyment of their own neighbourhoods,” the mayor said.

“We’re certainly imploring people, in the days as the pandemic hopefully recedes, to drink and to dine and to shop local, to get those small businesses back on their feet.”