Patios in the Glebe

Yesterday, the city’s transportation committee approved an application by Erling’s Variety for a patio on Strathcona Avenue. They actually approved three patios, but this was the only one that seemed to cause any problems. Residents spoke forcefully against it, almost begging for accusations of NIMBYism. It was a stereotypical Glebe performance.

In the end, the committee (rightfully) approved the application but (rightfully) imposed some some ground rules. The patio can only stay open until 9:00 pm, not 11:00. There must be a privacy barrier on the residential side of the patio. Smokers, both staff and patrons, must be discouraged from smoking near private homes, and the restaurant must put out proper butt-out infrastructure (to use a rather inflated word).

Some of the criticisms from residents were understandable (noise, smoking), some were less so (more drink and driving). Personally, I found two of the objections to be interesting–the danger from parked cars and a question about Orleans.

The parked-car objection seems odd. Restaurants often have patios near parked cars and no one has ever died. But if you look at the layout, you can understand the concern (even if it remains a tad overblown). At that point on Strathcona, there is no parallel parking. The city has a cutaway area that offers angled parking. Cars will be pointed directly at the patrons sitting on the patio.

I don’t find this interesting because of the possible danger. No, I find it dangerous because of the proposed solution–no patio. If I were to choose which I would have at the corner of my street, a nice restaurant patio or a row of parked cars, it’d be a no-brainer. Give me the life and liveliness of a patio any day (especially on closing at 9:00). Not only would it be more aesthetically pleasing there would be fewer cars that would be driving down my street coming or going from their parking spot.

As an added bonus, if the city did away with those spots, the sidewalk could be expanded out. This would alleviate another common complaint about patios, that they take up valuable sidewalk space (see: Elgin Street).

Maybe it’s just a case of status quo bias, but it seems like residents have their priorities mixed up.

Another objection was raised in the form of a question, would such a proposal in Orleans be approved? The implication being that residents in the Glebe aren’t treated as well as residents of the suburbs.

This is a weird complaint. How many people want the Glebe (or Centretown or the Market or Hintonburg) to become Orleans? I would be horrified if city council started treating the Glebe like a suburb. That’s not a dig at the suburbs (though, to be fair, I’ve been known to take digs at the suburb). What is attractive about the Glebe is its very un-suburbanness. It is a neighbourhood based on walking, storefronts, mix-use developments and, to a certain extent, nightlife. Any complaint that the Glebe should be treated like Orleans is missing the entire point. (In fact, it is the suburbs that should be treated more like urban neighbourhoods, facilitating more walking, biking and mix-use development.)

So Erling’s gets a patio, but with restrictions. A compromise has been reached, everyone has given a little and the decision isn’t permit; if Erling’s wants to open their patio again next year, it will require a new application, so they have an incentive to cooperate with the neighbourhood.

This is, in fact, a case of city council working really well.

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