City licensing staff insist that proposed fee hikes of, in some cases, more than 1,000 per cent for patios serving alcohol are still under consideration. But restaurant and bar owners say the increases will lead to fewer outdoor spaces for residents.
You could call it a war on fun in Toronto.
A city staff proposal to dramatically boost fees charged to operate sidewalk cafés and patios is being called just that, with some restaurant and bar owners predicting it will lead to fewer outdoor spaces for residents to eat and drink.
Toronto has a history of “that puritan, no-fun culture, unfortunately,” and these proposed fee hikes continue in that tradition, says Richard Pope, owner of Northwood on Bloor St. W., near Christie St. His $1,400-a-year patio permit fee would jump to about $14,000 annually under the proposal.
“They don’t want to come out and say, ‘We’re going to kill fun in this city.’ They want to make it like it’s us choosing not to have patios because of the fee, when financially it doesn’t make sense.”
City licensing staff insist nothing has been decided and the proposed fee hikes for patios serving alcohol are part of a broader review aimed at harmonizing sidewalk café and sidewalk marketing display bylaws across the city. The proposed fee structure — involving hikes, in some cases, of more than 1,000 per cent for the use of public property — varies depending on where the patio is located in the city.
“They are not cast in stone,” Carleton Grant, director of policy and strategic support with the city’s municipal licensing and standards division, told a stakeholder meeting this week. “We also recognize these fee increases are sensitive.”
A final report will go to council’s licensing and standards committee in April.
The proposed fees would go into effect in early 2018 and would be phased in over three to five years for existing permit holders because they are “substantially higher than the existing fees,” said Hamish Goodwin, a senior policy and research officer with the licensing department.
“In recognition of that, we are exploring how we can soften that,” he told the meeting. New permit applicants would pay the whole shot. The base fees were set about 20 years ago and have risen only with the rate of inflation.
Patrick Morrison, head of the Kensington Market Business Improvement Area, which represents about 250 businesses, called the proposed increases “outrageous.”
They are “not only an assault on small, independent merchants, but also on the streetscape of Toronto, particularly downtown,” Morrison said.
With so many condo towers being built, outdoor coffee, restaurant and bar patios “are becoming the living rooms for people living in these 600- to 700-square-foot units,” Morrison said.
“This is about people who live in very small spaces being able to go out and enjoy a little bit of time in the open air during the warmer season.”
Mike Shepherd, who owns Big Fat Burrito and Trinity Common in Kensington Market — both of which have 30-square-metre patios — suggested the fee hikes, if implemented, will drive smaller restaurateurs out of business, changing the “vibrancy of the city.”
“If you look at Europe and their patio fees and the way they allow licensing, and why they have such a good outdoor culture, it’s because the city understands that these things create atmosphere in a city, create places for people to go,” Shepherd said.
Councillor Joe Cressy, whose downtown Trinity-Spadina ward includes Kensington Market, said rising property values are already making it harder for small businesses to stay afloat.
“The proposal for a significant hike far and above the rate of inflation raises concerns for the viability of some businesses,” he said Wednesday.
“The fact that (the licensing and standards department) is consulting is a good thing. The fact that we’re hearing strong feedback helps to make sure that councillors do the right thing.”
Pope blamed the proposed fee hikes on politicians who are “too meek to raise property taxes to a level anywhere close to what the rest of the GTA pays.”
He also suggested a hidden agenda is at play, and that the city would like to “kill” all patios, since “NIMBY complaints about noise … are basically over-represented in councillors’ offices.”
“They want to minimize that disruption,” Pope said.
“People who do enjoy patios don’t tend to write their councillors and say they enjoy them.”