Essex Sidewalk Patio Policy, fees postponed

After bringing up a variety of concerns, Essex Council postponed adopting a Sidewalk Patio Policy and associated proposed fees and charges to a meeting in May.

When presented at the April 15 regular meeting, the recommendation was to adopt the policy and fees, so they would be in effect for May 1 for patios on Town rights-of-way. This policy does not include those on private property.

David McBeth, Manager of Capital Works & Asset Management, explained this was meant to build off the existing Sidewalk Patio By-Law that was created in 2022.This policy was created to ensure pedestrian and vehicular safety, as well as to create a standard look for patios within the Harrow and Essex Centre Streetscapes that tie to their themes, while protecting Town infrastructure.

“With the completion of the Harrow and Essex Centre Streetscape projects, this is the first year this by-law is really going to be used,” McBeth told Council, adding that when the By-Law was adopted two-years ago, the Ontario Traffic Council created guidelines for patio creation in municipal rights-of-ways. “That is what we are planning to use moving forward to protect our residents’ safety and ourselves from liability, when sidewalk patios are being created.”

He said the biggest recommendation within the policy is allowing the Town’s Operations Division to be responsible for installing these patios on behalf of businesses. In part, that is to meet the guidelines in the Ontario Traffic Manual. Constructing them may become too burdensome for businesses to complete the work, he said.

“The Town wants to ensure our newly installed infrastructure in our streetscape projects are protected,” McBeth said.

The Town, he said, is proposing a $1,000 fee for the setup/takedown of sidewalk patios for standard patios that do not require traffic control, and $2,000 for patios requiring traffic control measures, as they take more work.

The permits would be for May 1 until the end-of-October. They would be increased annually on January 1 by the Consumer Price Index. The cost would be borne by the business. So would the cost for the materials, such as railings.

“We are not trying to make money off of these patios, we are just trying to make sure that they are set up correctly," McBeth said.

In answering Councillor Joe Garon’s question, McBeth said the policy is trying to eliminate businesses installing their own patios. Garon asked if the bollards in the streetscape are set up to be moved for the patios. McBeth noted the bollards are meant to keep cars from entering the pedestrian area. He added the bollards are removable for the majority of the streetscape area, but the requirements from the Ontario Traffic Council manual require certain tested barriers for certain locations.

The Town, he said, has looked at things, like concrete planters, to provide additional security. Patios could be located adjacent to the building or in parking spaces. Six-feet of free-clearance space is required, so pedestrians can get around the patio.

Garon believes the policy is needed, but the cost associated for a business for a seasonal patio is a lot. He thought the bollards could be removed to the outside of the parking perimeters to extend the patios or space for tents sales.

McBeth noted they are removable, but there is no other space for the bollards to go. Garon thought that was part of the original streetscape plan. McBeth noted in his two-years with the Town, he never saw that on the engineering drawing.

CAO Doug Sweet noted that may have been one of the items revised when having to look at cost-cutting for the streetscape project. In answering Councillor Rodney Hammond’s question, McBeth noted the Town is mostly looking at black metal railings that could be anchored into the concrete for the patios. McBeth said businesses can make proposals that could fit and still make things safe.

Deputy Mayor Rob Shepley asked in the section in front of a business out to the sidewalk could be used for sidewalk sales and things of that nature.

Director of Legislative Services/Clerk, Joe Malandruccolo, will review the by-law for the information.

Shepley said he would hate to see this policy stop businesses from being able to have sidewalk sales.

McBeth noted this policy would not look at temporary weekend sidewalk sales.

In terms of the cost of the fees, Shepley believes it would be recoupable by restaurants, but not feasible for those wanting to use the space for sidewalk sales. Shepley asked about businesses with small patio areas, if they could expand beyond the perimeter of their location for more space.

McBeth noted that in terms of the perimeter, the intention is to keep to the width of the front of their building, ensuring there is a six-feet clearance for pedestrians.

Councillor Katie McGuire-Blais noted in the policy it mentions pop-ups and asked for clarification. McBeth believes that would include longer-termed instances that would impact pedestrian movement.

She further asked if the street was closed for an event if a business that may want to have a patio for that one night would be charged the whole fee.

McBeth said that is not the intention.

McGuire-Blais was not ready to adopt the policy as was presented and does not believe the price is fair. She said she spoke to a few restaurant owners in Essex Centre and they indicated they would not have the patio or lively urban environment required with the policy as it is.

She suggested looking at what other municipalities do in terms of this.

She also asked for the definition of the “flex street” in the downtown Essex Centre Streetscape. McBeth noted that the bollards do come out but cannot be moved to the back of the curb. The flex street is still there on one-level for access, with no step down. He added the bollards are not rated to take the force of the car, but will help restrict movement.

McGuire-Blais asked about allowing anchoring of the railings. McBeth noted that would be allowed to be done if done by the Operations Department.

She believes there has to be a policy. Town staff should not be setting up the patios. She does not believe the fee and cost for the barricades and materials is feasible for businesses.

“I don’t think any of our businesses are going to utilize this, and it is a waste of my breath right now, because if we keep with this, we will never use it. Ever,” McGuire-Blais said.

CAO Doug Sweet said staff will try to bring the policy back, in answering Council questions, as soon as possible.

Councillor Kim Verbeek said she liked the idea of Town staff taking the reins on setting up the patios to protect the new streetscape infrastructure.

Shepley further asked if a range of costs for all materials could be provided. He also asked about storing the materials. McBeth said the Town would remove the materials from the Rights-of-way, but the business would store its own equipment.

McBeth added the Town is trying to get a grant to help with the cost for some of the patios, but may not know if it is successful for several months.

Garon added, “I’m really stunned at the fact we spent that money on the flex street and we will not be able to utilize it, unless we spend all kinds of money to take away a parking spot for the whole summer, so they can utilize and expand their space out there.”

To him, it is a lot more complicated and does not even come close to what he thought this would be.

In November of 2021, the previous Term of Essex Centre voted to change the 2013 Downtown Essex Centre Streetscape Plan to include the flex street concept.

Sylene Argent, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Essex Free Press