Council Roundup: Pedal Pub gets another lease on life in NOTL

·7 min read

The future is looking good for the Pedal Pub a year after a town council tried to bar it from operating in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

On Monday council asked town staff to work with the Pedal Pub and plan alternative routes so the popular ride does not roll down Queen Street and can continue operating in the municipality.

It was a matter of safety and of getting the Pedal Pub's operators what they originally wanted, Lord Mayor Betty Disero said.

“Originally when the Pedal Pub came out to us they said, ‘We want to ride out to wineries,' ” she told councillors.

A regional bylaw that states Pedal Pubs cannot operate on regional roads interfered with that plan, so the business routed down Mississagua Street and then down Queen before returning to its office on Mary Street.

The mayor recommended the mobile pub start heading to wineries along John Street such as Peller Estates Winery and Two Sisters Vineyards, avoiding Queen Street altogether.

Pedal Pub general manager Marlo Saganski was all in for the discussions.

"We feel very fortunate that they put the referral in for us to work with them to find a happy resolution," Saganski told The Lake Report Wednesday.

He was a little confused by the suggestion the Pedal Pub travel down John Street. It was doing that last year but stopped at the town's request.

"We worked with council last year to get us off residential roads," she said.

That's why the mobile pub started using Mississagua and Queen, both commercially zoned streets.

But Saganski' said she's excited to return to the wineries on John Street that Pedal Pub visited in the past. Peller Estates was among the businesses that wrote to council in support of the business.

"We would be thrilled to work with them again," she said.

Some councillors were against any council motion that interfered with the business. Coun. Alan Bisback referred to the suggestions as “punitive,” saying they targeted a specific business.

Coun. Norm Arsenault felt the business had responded to council's concerns and said it was unfair for council to continue targeting the Pedal Pub.

“We’ve talked to them and they’ve adapted,” he said. “I don’t see this to be any more safety-related than the (carriage operators).”

Disero insisted that having the Pedal Pub operate down busy streets such as Queen and Mississagua was a safety concern.

“There’s a lineup of five to 10 cars behind them and what starts to happen is the cars go around. Then you have cars coming the other way and all of a sudden you start to see brake lights coming on. That, to me, is an issue,” Disero said.

Coun. Clare Cameron also felt the continued obstruction of the Pedal Pub’s operations was punitive and wanted to end the debate once and for all.

“I don’t think a referral is productive,” she said. “I feel so uncomfortable about being punitive to this business at this point because I think they’ve tried to do things right.”

The motion was passed with only Cameron and Coun. Erwin Wiens voting against it. Coun. Wendy Cheropita abstained, citing a business conflict.

A follow-up report is expected in August.

The town’s short-term rental committee presented a list of 33 recommendations to reign in the short-term rental industry in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The report focused on penalties for unlicensed operations, regulations for unhosted rentals and targeting problem properties.

“It did seem that the problems that we heard about were coming from maybe a half-a-dozen properties,” committee chair Robert Browning told council.

“If there was a mechanism to deal with recommendations for those properties then that may make many issues disappear.”

Browning did not comment on which properties were specifically causing problems.

The town recently launched a program with Granicus Host Compliance to track complaints about rentals. Granicus determined there may be over 200 unlicensed rentals in town.

Browning hopes that with the implementation of the Granicus tracking system the town will have a better picture of exactly which properties are non-compliant.

The majority of complaints about short-term rentals are about unhosted properties, Browning said.

He stressed that the town should adopt strict definitions for hosted and unhosted rentals to aid in enforcement.

A hosted property is a rental that the owners live in alongside renters. Unhosted properties are those in which the owner lives off-site while it is being rented, Browning said.

He also suggested that the town not utilize the term bed & breakfast to define rentals, saying it is merely a marketing term. All rentals should be categorized as either hosted and unhosted.

Councillors were taken aback by the size of the report and wanted to know which of the 33 recommendations should be prioritized.

Craig Larmour, director of community and development services, said councillors should make those decisions.

“I think if this is just sent away to us then the short-term rental committee has reported to staff and not to council,” Larmour said.

Coun. Allan Bisback disagreed, countering that “I don’t think it’s appropriate to suggest that council make (suggestions).”

Lord Mayor Betty Disero said staff needed to vet the recommendations for feasibility before councillors told them which ones to act on.

Coun. Norm Arsenault is on the short-term rental committee and stressed the importance of recommendations 27 and 29.

Number 27 suggests strong penalties for unlicensed operators while number 29 urges the town to move forward with a penalty system to make it easier for bylaw officers to charge non-compliant rentals.

The committee also addressed the issue of food service and merchandise sales in short-term rentals.

Browning and the committee supported allowing rental operators to serve appetizers and snacks to renters. They also encouraged allowing short-term rentals to sell local artists' wares inside their rentals to increase their audience.

“The audience would only be people who rented the short-term rentals. It wouldn’t be to attract business off the street,” Browning said.

An update regarding the monetary penalty system is coming in August, Larmour said. A report vetting the recommendations of the short-term rental committee is also expected in August.

After complaints that Niagara-on-the-Lake would be footing the bill for other municipalities in an integrated regional transit program, the Region of Niagara has presented an updated proposal it says ensures municipalities pay only for the services they receive.

The new model presented by the region proposes that municipalities pay based on their hours of service.

NOTL currently pays $1.8 million per year for transit services. The new model would see that cost increase by $200,000 in 2023 and an additional $700,000 in 2025, for a total of $2.7 million per year. All of the town's share would be funded by NOTL taxpayers through a special levy to the region.

With the costs being uploaded to the region, the municipal budget would be decreased in kind, said Matt Robinson, director of GO Transit's implementation office.

Coun. Norm Arsenault asked why the town's portion would increase.

“There are inflationary costs, which you would see each year as you go through a municipal budget,” said Heather Talbot, a special projects consultant with the region.

Talbot also said the prices will increase due to service updates and increased hours of operation.

Municipal transit in the form of NRT On Demand currently operates from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Under the new system, transit would be available from 6 a.m. to midnight seven days a week starting in 2025.

These hours would be standardized across all municipalities to make inter-municipal transportation easy for residents, Robinson said.

Under a segregated system, which is what currently exists, co-ordinatiing inter-municipal transit is difficult.

“That’s where it’s a bit disjointed,” Robinson said. “(An integrated system) would allow for that seamless transfer between residents in St. Catharines who are trying to get to work in Niagara-on-the-Lake.”

Coun. Clare Cameron suggested it should happen sooner than 2025. “Hopefully, that’s something we can work on,” she said.

The region will present an updated plan based on council’s feedback later this year, with the final vote expected during the fall or early winter.

Resident feedback will be sought later through an online survey, said GO implementation office Scott Fraser.

All councillors voted in support of the presentation excluding Arsenault and Coun. Erwin Wiens.

Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report

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