City Hall

The big issues tomorrow:

Sidewalk cafes

Staff has written a report recommending the implementation of a sidewalk cafe bylaw and an accompanying administrative order outlining fees. In the past, sidewalk cafes were sloppily regulated, caught between a hazy “policy” and three bylaws regulating other things, but not sidewalk cafes directly. For the most part, staff’s proposal is sensible, with one glaring problem.

On the positive side, the new bylaw will give proper oversight to sidewalk cafe construction. Previously, sidewalk cafe plans submitted by restaurant owners had to be approved, but no inspection was made of the actual construction. The lack of inspection has been a disaster waiting to happen. The staff report lists the incidents for which people have already laid claims against the city:

  • trip and fall over low sidewalk planter;
  • chair tipped off deck;
  • person walked off deck as there were no visual clues/chain/barricade;
  • slip and fall on slippery wood (multiple);
  • trip over raised or uneven planking;
  • trip over unmarked wheelchair ramp;
  • trip over metal sign or parking meter base (multiple);
  • fall over broken curb after deck removed;
  • fall resulting from stepping onto damaged grate/pothole after deck removed.

But these were with the traditional sidewalk-level cafes. Lately, the report notes, “the nature of the sidewalk café construction has also changed, with a few sidewalk cafés being constructed at heights above street grade, thereby creating a risk of collapse.” Think of the structure Durty Nelly’s has constructed far above Sackville Street, and imagine that loaded with patrons and collapsing.

Other parts of the proposed bylaw deal with streamlining the bureaucratic system, increasing insurance requirements (which are still at 1997 levels), and implementing a consistent and coherent fee structure. Merchants of course are complaining about the fee structure, but that’s what merchants do; there’s nothing outrageous or untoward about the fees—the city isn’t even recovering all the lost parking metre revenue from the cafes.

In order to prevent conflicts with snow and ice removal equipment, the report suggests a normal cafe season of April 15 through October 31, with allowances for earlier starts and later break-downs should weather allow. That makes sense, and with annual reconstruction inspections in the spring, the structural integrity of the cafes will be maintained.

But the report also suggests that council can permit year-round cafes. This is, in a word, horrible.

As I pointed out in 2007, when year-round cafes were part of the original HRM By Design proposal, year-round cafes necessarily mean year-round use of patio heaters:

However, if the HRM by Design plan moves forward, the city government will in effect be actively encouraging the construction of dozens of completely uninsulated, unregulated (energy-wise) sidewalk cafes, warmed by hundreds of incredibly wasteful patio heaters. (Figure a dozen patio heaters at each cafe and once Argyle Street gets the year-round extension, every other part of town will insist on the same.)

How wasteful? Figures from Britain indicate that gas- or propane-fired patio heaters are about 10 times less efficient than heating the same area indoors. I suspect the figure is even worse in windy Halifax. And electric heaters only dodge the issue: Instead of being emitted on Argyle Street, the greenhouse gases from electric heaters would be emitted across the harbour at the Tufts Cove power plant.

Patio heaters are so bad environmentally that the Energy Saving Trust, a British environmental group, has urged a consumer boycott of pubs and cafes that use them.

Climate change is the issue of our time. Reducing unnecessary burring of fossil fuels should be the number one commitment of city government, and I’m wondering why the city’s Sustainability office hasn’t weighed in on this.

Notably, the staff report on sidewalk cafes says “there are no environmental implications for this report.” That is just flat-out wrong.

Landfill issues

Council will also give “first reading” to proposed changes in two bylaws governing curbside pickup of waste. There will be no debate on the issues. Rather, first reading moves the proposed changes on to a public hearing stage, which will come later this year. Only after hearing from the public can council debate or vote on changes to bylaws.

The proposed changes are as follows:

• remove boxboard as a mandated green bin product (while still permitted as a kitchen scrap material catcher)
• mandate use of Kraft paper bags for separate collection of leaf and yard waste
• ban grass clippings from collection
• mandate clear bags (with one nested opaque bag) for residential collection
• reduce garbage bag limits from six to four

The proposed changes to curbside pickup will get most people’s attention, but an underlying issue is of equal importance. As I explained in July:

The ambitious Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, passed in 2007, laid out a dozen targets related to environmental standards, one of which was “the solid-waste disposal rate will be no greater than three hundred kilograms per person per year by the year 2015 through measures that include the development of new programs and product stewardship regulations.” Here we are in 2014, one year away from the 2015 target date, and the per person waste dispel rate in Halifax is 396 kilograms per person—over 30 percent above the target.

The province insists the city meet the target, but the city bureaucracy is resisting. Reads a staff report:

HRM waste characteristic data identifies 60,294 tonnes of waste currently delivered to landfill as being recyclable or compostable materials targeted for diversion. To reach the 300kg target, HRM would have to divert 65% of this material. This is material that should have been separated at source by the residents and commercial sector generators.


To increase diversion, staffing resources would need to increase to support additional educational and compliance program initiatives to enhance diversion. Based on current diversion data, for every 1,300 tonnes diverted, an investment in 1 Diversion Planning Officer (DPO) is required. The diversion of an additional 39,300 tonnes equates to 30 FTE DPOs. This staffing cost is estimated at an additional $2,070,000/year. Currently, HRM is contemplating hiring an additional 3 staff at a cost of $207,000 per year. Barring other legislative changes, and or program changes, with the three additional staff, and existing staff numbers, achievement of the 300 kg/capita target will take ten years to complete.

Translation: “Screw you and your 2015 target; we’re not going to hit it until 2025.”

Council’s Environment & Sustainability Committee split the difference with staff, adding a single line to a letter back to the province saying that the city agrees the 300kg limit is a legitimate goal. The committee is basically begging the province to force the city to meet the standard.

Earth Hour

Council is also being asked to drop out of Earth Hour, the annual feel-good movement to raise awareness of climate change, and to use staff resources to do actual stuff related to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the positive spin on it. The negative spin is, well, the city is dropping out of Earth Hour.

As usual, I’ll be live-blogging the meeting via the @hfxExaminer twitter feed, starting at 1pm.

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. I think that people should be free to use the patios whenever they want, but no additional heating should be provided.

    1. The POINT is simply: we do not NEED outdoor patios which require the waste of nanjoules of energy. It’s a Hollywood FAD and totally inappropriate for climatic and environmental reasons let alone the NUISANCE of blocked sidewalks, NOISE, and exacerbation of the already-extreme parking dilemma. Interesting that many «owners» of these patios park THEIR conspicuous-consumption Vanity Vehicles in the middle of the street or in disabled or otherwise restricted spaces for HOURS — day-in and day-out with impunity!
      Go figure!