Kingston Council approves changes to sidewalk patio standards

Kingston City Council debates amendments to the City’s Street Patio Standards and Application Guide. Screen captured image.

The City of Kingston has introduced a number of changes to its Street Patio Standards and Application Guide, following pushback from patio operators in the downtown core. The updates were approved during the Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, meeting of Kingston City Council, and come after City staff engaged with patio operators following the March 2023 adoption of the new standards. 

When the new standards were first introduced last year, they represented the first major changes to the City’s patio bylaw since the program was first established in 1992. Among the new regulations were four set patio configurations for local bars and restaurants, minimum operating requirements, and new design standards for fences, seating, and even patio umbrellas. 

While the standards were approved ahead of last year’s patio season, only new and modified patio applications were subject to the new regulations for 2023, while the majority of downtown patios were given an additional year to transition to the new rules. Throughout this time, patio operators continued to raise concerns about the standards and the potential impact on their businesses. 

According to a staff report that was presented to the City’s Environment, Infrastructure, and Transportation Policies (EITP) Committee last week, since March of 2023, the City has been working with patio operators to ensure their concerns were properly addressed. 

Following several months of engagement, which included an information session for patio operators as well as the creation of a “review committee” by the Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Area (BIA), City staff recommended a number of amendments and exemptions to the regulation; these were brought to Council for deliberation on Tuesday night. 

The amendments, which were previously supported by the EITP Committee at its meeting on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2024, include changes to fencing requirements and seating configurations. One change will allow patio owners to use planters “to define the patio area,” instead of the previously mandated cane-detectable railing which was included in the first set of regulations. 

Another change will see select patios granted an exemption to the policy requiring a 1.1-metre aisle from the patio entrance to the entrance of the building. According to the updates, staff will be permitted to grant exemptions to the policy on a case-by-case basis, to allow existing patios to maintain a 0.9-metre aisle width. The exemptions will only apply to existing patios with a “previously approved… configuration.” The report noted that exempt patios will be expected to fall in line with the new standards “at the next available opportunity.” Examples of such opportunities might be when a full reconstruction of a patio is planned or when there is a change in ownership.

Exemptions will also be granted to to allow patios to maintain a 1.5-metre pedestrian clearway, instead of the currently mandated 1.83 metres as noted in the new regulations. According to staff, 1.5 metres is the minimum clearway as mandated by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). 

When the staff report was presented to Council on Tuesday night, only a few questions were raised by councillors. Noting previous concerns surrounding the lack of outreach from staff to downtown business owners, King’s Town District Councillor Gregory Ridge asked staff to provide an overview of the outreach that’s occurred. 

In response, Matt Kussin, Manager of Transportation Policy and Programs for the City of Kingston, said that “the City and City staff did have quite an extensive outreach with businesses, both through the process of developing the standards [and] also following the adoption of the standards.” 

Kingstonist file photo.

Kussin added that staff engaged with business owners through surveys and “door-to-door visits” while initially developing the standards. Once the new rules were adopted last March, Kussin noted, staff continued to contact operators of sidewalk patios to inform them of the amendments that were brought to Council on Tuesday night. 

In addition to concerns surrounding a perceived lack of outreach from City staff, the initial standards also included controversial regulations pertaining to patio umbrellas. While the standards approved last March mandated that umbrellas be made of “flame-resistant materials,” that regulation has now been dropped, as has a design regulation that restricted the use of umbrellas with branding on them.

Speaking to the umbrella policy on Tuesday night, Kussin remarked, “What’s left in the standards relates to accessibility considerations and… the height of the umbrella and just meeting AODA requirements, and also to ensure that umbrellas are kept within the confines of the patio itself, [so as not to] impact the sidewalk or encumber pedestrians.” 

On top of amendments and exemptions, the staff report included additional points of clarification, including updates to the City’s modular patio program, which was piloted last season after the municipality sourced “modular platforms for pop-up patios in on-street parking spaces.” While the report recommended modular platforms continue to be offered as an option for patio operators, the platforms will no longer be funded by the City. Instead, the report noted, the BIA will “coordinate directly with the platform vendor utilized in 2023 and with businesses to determine interest, [assess] preferred locations, and manage the collection of funds.” 

Once the report was brought forward for a vote, it passed unanimously.

For 2024, the sidewalk patio season runs from April 1 to November 30, while the pop-up patios can be open from May 15  to September 15. 

The agenda from the February 20, 2024 meeting of Kingston City Council can be found on the City of Kingston’s council meetings webpage, and the meeting can be viewed in its entirety on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel.

Kingston City Council meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month (except in July and August, when it meets once each month) at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers at Kingston City Hall, 216 Ontario Street.

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