Councillors voted 13 to 1, with one councillor abstaining, to give restaurants an opportunity to have communal outdoor seating that could accommodate physical distancing amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Those dining areas would occupy extra space that could potentially lead to street or parking lot closures for a period of several months.
Ward 2 Coun. Jason Farr introduced the motion, saying Hamilton’s restaurant sector has been devastated by the pandemic. “We want to get as many of these 18,000 restaurant workers back to work as soon as possible, and expanding the footprints is the way to do that,” said Farr during Wednesday’s virtual council meeting. “If you have a small restaurant, it’s a 50-seat capacity, and now suddenly it’s 25; you’re likely only going to bring back a certain amount of employees. If your footprint increases, you have more staff.”
Farr pointed to the recent closure of Emma’s Back Porch on the lakeshore in nearby Burlington, Ont., which was partially impacted by a loss in revenue due to the pandemic. “It’s going to happen here, unfortunately, and with other businesses,” he said.
Those other businesses were an area of concern for other councillors, including Ward 9 Coun. Brad Clark, who wanted to ensure the motion would not have a negative impact on non-restaurant businesses adjacent to those dining areas. “My intention is just to make sure that these businesses can still operate,” said Clark. “And that their customers can get in, their deliveries can get in and out — that’s the intention.“I’m really frustrated here. Because there are lots of businesses on these streets that are not restaurants. I’m trying to be co-operative and come up with a way of making sure these businesses are not negatively impacted. We’re talking about six months; we’re not talking about a
Jason Thorne, the city’s general manager of planning and economic development, said each dining district would need to be approved through the special events advisory team (SEAT) application process.
An amendment to the motion was included to allow each councillor involvement in the creation of any dining district within their ward, along with another amendment to ensure businesses will still be able to receive deliveries and have pedestrians and vehicles be able to access them.