Hamilton makes expanded restaurant patio program permanent

City council has given final approval to turning Hamilton’s outdoor dining districts into a permanent seasonal program, but not before responding to accessibility concerns.

Councillors voted on Wednesday to require staff to consult with the Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities, as it creates guidelines under which restaurant patios can be expanded onto public spaces, including sidewalks.

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“I don’t know a member of council who doesn’t support the initiative, particularly given the conditions that small restaurants and bars have been put through,” said Ward 1 Coun. Maureen Wilson. “However, this is certainly an issue of conflicting public space.”

Staff noted that the patios are required to be compliant with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

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Jason Thorne, the city’s general manager of planning and economic development, will also report to council annually in regards to the program’s successes and challenges.

“Every year, as we learn from the program, what works well, what works not so well, we can make those sorts of changes to the terms and conditions,” Thorne said.

The expanded patio program was established early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Introduced as a temporary program, it has been praised for helping small businesses survive pandemic restrictions by allowing them to expand their outdoor dining areas into streets, sidewalks and parking lots.

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The outdoor dining districts can operate from April through October, and more than 200 businesses participated in the program last year.

“Without this program, you would have seen a lot more businesses in Hamilton close,” said Tracy MacKinnon, who represents the Westdale Village, Stoney Creek and Locke Street business improvement areas.

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