Some patio operators, particularly those on Preston Street, say the fees they pay the city for the right to encroach on municipal property are too high and discourage bars, restaurants and cafes from setting up outdoor tables and chairs.
City staff and council’s transportation committee are recommending those fees be waived for affected businesses during road construction projects, following a pilot project that reduced these fees on Preston Street.
The head of the area’s business improvement association said the gesture was appreciated, but adds it doesn’t address the underlying issue.
“I think it made the difference in terms of some semblance of a summer,” said Lori Mellor, executive director of the Preston Street BIA. “It’s more (symbolic) than financial.”
Patio operators must pay $1.30 per square metre each day to encroach on a municipal sidewalk or hard-surfaced inner boulevard.
All patio operators on Preston Street saw their fees reduced to $0.55 per square metre per day via a pilot project that will extend to the end of this year as final paving and landscaping is completed on Little Italy’s main road.
The staff report noted lowering the fees on Preston Street has not fulfilled a BIA expectation that new patios would open as a result.
“To date, the reduction in fees has not resulted in the establishment of any new outdoor patios within the Preston Street BIA area, but has resulted in a loss of permit fee revenue of approximately $8,000,” the report stated.
In a 2011 OBJ interview, a city official estimated $635,000 in patio fees are collected annually.
Ms. Mellor said the fees Ottawa patio owners pay are unacceptably high and out of line with other Canadian cities, considering the variable weather in the national capital.
“If you have a bad summer, you’re toast. If it’s too hot, you’re toast. It is such a crapshoot for businesses to open a patio.”
The fee in Ottawa was originally based on the equivalent cost for somebody to use a parking spot on a city street, the report noted.
Today, cost of living increases in the city’s budget have placed parking fees above patio fees, the report notes. Parking rates are now at $1.53 per square metre each day, while other “temporary surface encroachments” are at a maximum of $1.30.
The fee in Ottawa may be changed after the end of the pilot project on Preston Street later this year, according to the report, but at the moment staff do not recommend any changes.
The motion to waive patio encroachment fees during road construction projects is scheduled to go before full council on April 25.
(For the equivalent of a 15.6-square-metre patio)
Source: City of Ottawa