BY NECO COCKBURN | THE OTTAWA CITIZEN
City staff plan to ‘streamline and create some efficiencies’
OTTAWA — City of Ottawa staff are working to “modernize” a business licensing bylaw that sets out rules for everything from auctioneers, driving schools and flea markets to restaurants, tobacco vendors and strip clubs.
Philip Powell, the city’s manager of licensing, permits and markets, characterized the work as “mostly an administrative review” meant to “clean up, streamline and create some efficiencies,” although some of the 30 business areas regulated under the bylaw might face changes.
Staff are asking whether the city still needs to play a role in regulating particular businesses or activities, as well as assessing whether new areas should be licensed, Powell said. Among other things, staff are considering rules around street-food vending.
One new business type expected to be brought under the bylaw’s purview involves Sparks Street-area surface tour operators who, for the past two summers, have been subject to trial regulations aimed at stopping customer confusion and keeping businesses from fighting for prime kiosk locations and curb space, Powell said.
With increased gold prices causing an influx of cash-for-gold operations, staff are also exploring options regarding gold buyers to “ensure that the public is being protected,” he said.
On the other hand, some businesses might be dropped or see a reduction in the amount of city involvement, depending on what staff propose and feedback received during consultations.
Auctioneers, for example, are in a class of business licensing that isn’t as common or popular as it was in the past. To determine whether the city should continue its regulation, staff are looking at the number of auctioneer-related complaints they receive and intend to consult with police, who have an interest in the source of items put up for auction, Powell said.
Flea markets are another business type that are regulated under the bylaw, but also fall under zoning rules, so staff will assess which bylaw rules remain necessary, Powell said.
In addition, the schedule within the bylaw that deals with “public garages” is to be made more specific to align better with zoning definitions that specify whether a property is to be used for a parking lot, body shop or car sales lot, he said.
Following amalgamation in 2001, staff distilled hundreds of business regulations into one bylaw and have continued that work in the decade since.
With the harmonization almost complete – rules around pet shops were consolidated this year and staff are to complete regulations for kennels in early 2012 – “we have to bring the whole thing up to date and literally into the 21st century to align ourselves to be able to allow people to do their own selfservice through the Internet,” Powell said.
As the city undertakes a larger streamlining of its processes under its “Service Ottawa” project, staff are working to make the business regulations “as efficient and clear as possible,” Powell said. Under the Service Ottawa plan, business licence renewals and applications are expected to be available online by the end of 2012.
Overall, Powell said most businesses “are not going to see dramatic changes. We’re not going to say we’re introducing 10 new forms of licensing. We’re just looking at bringing things up to date.”
Perhaps the most significant changes are to involve street-food vending, and a pilot project for food carts that’s expected in 2013. The bylaw schedule dealing with food carts currently covers businesses on both private and public property, which makes the regulation more complicated, Powell said.
A proposed revision would see everything related to street and sidewalk vending moved into a new separate bylaw, while the business licensing bylaw would be left “as a very straightforward regulation that relates to things on private property, and we don’t need to be as restrictive and prescriptive on it,” Powell said. The street vending bylaw would contain more stringent and in-depth rules and conditions for the business occupying the space, ensuring the safety of people around it, Powell said.
Part of the work regarding street food will also involve assessing how best to deal with a moratorium on licences for sidewalk spaces that dates back about 15 years. There are 32 licensed street food spaces in the city, down from about 100 two decades ago. Staff are drafting proposed changes to the licensing bylaw and hope to bring forward a report to council’s community and protective services committee and council by June. Before then, consultations are to be conducted with the city’s business advisory committee, affected businesses and business improvement areas, police and the public.
“We really do want to get this right. Some of these categories haven’t been consulted in 10 years and we don’t want to be undertaking another consultation” after the new bylaw is approved, Powell said.
Areas that the city can license are set out in the provincial Municipal Act and Ottawa officials regulate with an eye toward consumer protection and public safety, he said.