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City abandons ‘no-smoking’ designation on Church Street parklets

Swift community action opens up benches for smokers

A man smokes on the newly launched parklet outside the Starbucks on Church Street. Credit: Rob Salerno

Quick action by community members ended a smoking ban on Church Street’s new “parklets,” a spokesperson for Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says.

All the parklets on the block between Wellesley and Maitland streets had “No Smoking” signs placed on them as soon as they were painted. The signs cited Section 709 of the municipal code, implying that smoking on them was illegal, but nothing in that section indicates that smoking on an outdoor public patio is illegal.

The parklets had been set up for only a few days before someone removed the no-smoking decals. It’s now common to see people sitting on the new parklet benches smoking.

Melissa Wong, a spokesperson for Wong-Tam, says the Church Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area (BIA) initially placed the no-smoking signs on the parklets in order to preserve the space for all users. “We’d hoped to have some of the parklets as non-smoking areas because they’re public areas and we want them to be shared by everybody,” Wong says. “We understand that there are a lot of people who smoke in the neighbourhood and visit and are smokers, and the BIA has reviewed this and decided to put up smoking-butt receptacles. Right now we are going to permit smoking on them.”

There was also concern that debris from used cigarettes might be a hazard on the wooden patios, although the wood has been treated with a flame retardant. The BIA decided to install butt receptacles at its own cost after seeing how many smokers were using the parklets.

Neighbours have often complained that smokers outside Church Street bars and restaurants block the narrow sidewalks. Now smokers can sit on the parklets, keeping the sidewalks clear.

David Wootton, general manager of the BIA, which manages the parklets, says his organization is only just learning how the community is using the new sidewalk extensions and patios and will have to adapt to what the community wants. He notes that the parklets have already proved very popular with the neighbourhood.

Right now, parklets in front of licensed restaurants are being used as licensed patio extensions, but those in front of bars and shops are simple boxes with benches.

The parklet in front of Byzantium is being used as a patio on which patrons can order food and drinks, but the one in front of Woody’s is not licensed. It’s being used as a default second smoking patio for the bar, and patrons cannot take drinks from the bar to the space or order them there.

Wong says that’s because Wong-Tam wanted there to be a variety of uses for the street-side patios.

“It was a desire to have a balance of both licensed and non-licensed spaces, public and private spaces within the parklets. There was some discussion around which spaces should be licensed,” Wong says.

Wootton says that the way the parklets are used may change next year, when the BIA assumes full responsibility for the project from the city.

“There was a lot of interest from the businesses to be involved in the project,” he says.