City urged to ban new drive-thrus downtown

Friday, 19 February 2010

By Amanda Mrezar

A City of Ottawa committee has approved bylaw changes that would ban drive-thru services for restaurants and banks from the downtown area.

The decision by the city’s planning and environment committee, which awaits consideration by full council later this month, follows lengthy negotiations with TDL Group Corp., the parent company of coffee-and-donut retailer Tim Hortons.

The committee approved plans to prevent new drive-thru services in the city’s central area and along “village mainstreets” throughout Ottawa.

TDL Group appealed an earlier proposed policy in July 2008.

The Ottawa lawyer representing the company, Michael Polowin, says the vote by committee members to approve the amended policy was a preliminary step in a process ultimately headed for the Ontario Municipal Board, which resolves disputes over decisions by the province’s municipal governments.

“A settlement was reached through mediation. The settlement is subject to approval by city council, and by the Ontario Municipal Board,” he says.

The “central area” referred to in the report encompasses Lowertown and Centretown, including the city’s central business district.

A city report says maintaining the “distinct identity and heritage character,” of areas such as Centretown is a top priority in implementing the bylaw.

“It’s a good thing further restrictions are in place,” says Shawn Menard, president of the Centretown Citizens Community Association.

“Centretown is an eclectic place,” he adds, noting that the convenience of drive-thrus can clash with the interests of pedestrians.

“We are all walkers,” he says.

The new policy, according to the city report, is aimed at supporting walking and cycling, and recognizes the importance of maintaining safe environments on all main streets.

Kanata South Coun. Peggy Feltmate, who sits on the planning committee, says that while there are few drive-thrus in the central area, the city felt restrictions were necessary because car-based services “are environmentally unfriendly and they cause a waiting area…which causes traffic problems.”

But she says Tim Hortons has “felt restricted” by the push to limit drive-thrus because the company wants to protect a strategy they’ve employed for their company.

City planner Francoise Jessop of says changes to the drive-thru bylaws became necessary when Ottawa’s formerly autonomous municipalities were amalgamated and multiple zoning rules were standardized.

“We tried to establish drive-thrus as a separate land use,” she says.

“What we decided to do is make the drive-thru facility a separate land use to regulate it separately. This is something a lot of municipalities are doing.”

However, under the conditions agreed upon through mediation between the city and TDL, restaurants will still have the opportunity to develop a drive-thru in restricted areas, but will have to go through a zoning process, she says.

“The reason we are proposing those policies is because the official plan speaks to promoting those areas as pedestrian and civilian areas,” says Jessop.

“The drive-thru type of facility isn’t always that compatible with those objectives,” she says, re-iterating that “…drive-thrus in critical areas of the city would do nothing to enhance those areas”.


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