Toronto makes it easier for restaurants to create outdoor space this winter

·3 min read

Patio extensions for restaurants, bars, and cafes hit hard by COVID-19 will continue into the winter, after Toronto City Council recently approved measures to allow businesses to keep patios and waive associated fees.

At a meeting on Oct. 27, city council unanimously passed a motion proposed by Mayor John Tory that called for an extension of the CafeTO program and to allow installation of curbside cafes and frontage cafes from Nov. 16, 2020 to Apr. 14, 2021.

“Winter is coming and we need to support restaurants by allowing winter cafes right now,” Tory said. “Sidewalk cafes and expanded patio space are just a few ways we will support restaurants this winter and into the spring.”

When CafeTO launched earlier this year in response to the pandemic, the program allowed hundreds of restaurants, bars, and cafes across the city – including many on Danforth Avenue and Queen Street East – to set up patio seating in front of the establishment, and onto roadside lanes made available through ActiveTO road closures.

While the winter weather will force city snow clearing crews to require access to those roadside lanes, the new proposal allows restaurants to maintain curbside and frontage cafes. So patios can be maintained in front of the business, or adjacent to the building if space is permitted, and across the sidewalk onto the curb.

“The City has moved at the equivalent of light-speed for the government while rolling-out the CafeTO program,” Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford said. “As tough as the pandemic has been, this is a moment for us to experiment with taking a different approach to winter living in Toronto. With Council’s approval, businesses can have curbside patios which sit on the extra sidewalk space beyond the pedestrian ‘clearway’ and flankage patios which sit beside the frontage of a store when there is enough space to safely pass through.”

“At a time as unprecedented as this, we have to use every available option to keep our communities and businesses thriving,” he added.

Zoning bylaw amendments that were set in place earlier this year resulting from the CafeTO program will remain in place to ease restrictions on private property for outdoor patios. It also allows for an increase on the maximum size of outdoor patios and removes restrictions that would otherwise prevent an outdoor patio in front of the buildings.

Fees involved for any curbside or frontage cafe have been waived. Council also authorized Economic Development and Culture to work with Destination Toronto and BIAs to support safe winter economy initiatives and promote the winter economy with campaigns.

Broadview-Danforth BIA, as an example of a winter economy initiative, has launched “Fall Thrill of the Chill” to support local businesses along that stretch of the Danforth.

As of Oct. 24, residents can visit any of the BIA’s outdoor restaurant patios and receive a complimentary thermal blanket that comes with a $5 BIA gift certificate for use at any business in the BIA.

“It’s our hope that this will drive customers to our restaurants despite the chilly weather,” BIA chair Albert Stortchak said.

Restaurants interested in creating winter sidewalks must first register to ensure safety. Portable heaters are permitted to be placed within sidewalk cafes and on private patios. Open air fires are not permitted. Temporary tens and structures are not permitted, but may be allowed on private patios.

Existing roadside patios are expected to be removed between Nov. 2 and 13.

Roadside patios at Gerrard India Bazaar will be removed Nov. 5, Queen Street East on Nov. 8, Broadview-Danforth BIA on Nov. 9, Greektown on Nov. 10, and Danforth Mosaic on Nov. 13. Remaining business areas with roadside patios will have them removed sometime between the Nov. 2 and 13 window.

Ali Raza, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Beach Metro News