Town says no more Queen Street patios, for now

Councillors got a bit hot under the collar in a debate about temporary patios Tuesday night.

The issue of seasonal patios for food establishments has become an ongoing one for Niagara-on-the-Lake’s nine elected officials, with concerns about significantly altering the town's streetscape and lost parking revenue.

But despite almost 30 minutes of back and forth, the NOTL nine reached a consensus that the town should temporarily stop accepting new applications for seasonal patios on Queen Street.

Coun. Gary Burroughs, concerned Queen Street could become inundated with outdoor seating for diners, said he wants to refuse any new applications for seasonal patios until the town sets some permanent regulations for them.

“Until the staff come back with their detailed report. There shouldn't be any new patios issued on Queen Street only,” Burroughs said.

"What we don't want is solid wall-to-wall patios," he later told The Lake Report.

Seasonal patios have been permitted because the town implemented a temporary use bylaw in 2020, during the pandemic, so restaurants could offer additional outdoor seating.

This was done to help offset the damages to food establishments caused by lockdowns, social distancing mandates and indoor gathering restrictions.

The bylaw has been renewed every year since, but councillors want to get rid of it and replace it with a permit program that doesn’t need annual approval.

Coun. Sandra O’Connor brought back a pitch from a meeting on Feb. 13 seeking to charge a fee to restaurant owners who set up seasonal patios on municipal parking spots.

“This is not fair or equitable to other establishments who are not able to access parking spots, nor is it fair and equitable for the residents,” she said.

While Burroughs could muster support for his idea, O’Connor was the lone vote supporting a fee structure to compensate the town for lost parking revenue.

“We're here debating against something that will never come into effect,” said Coun. Erwin Wiens.

He argued staff would not get to implement O’Connor’s proposed fee structure before the permanent program was completed.

“We have to get more efficient,” he said.

Spending 30 minutes debating a fee structure for a program scheduled to close next February, Wiens said, was not efficient.

Coun. Maria Mavridis, who withheld her support, said the proposed fee structure was being tacked on and the whole thing was being done “piecemeal.”

Mavridis’ previous participation in patio discussions came under the scrutiny of the integrity commissioner after a complaint was filed against her by a restaurant owner.

She is employed at her father's restaurant, Corks Wine Bar and Eatery, located in the Queen Street Heritage District.

Integrity commissioner Ted McDermott said she had no “direct pecuniary interest” in the patio program, as was alleged by the complainant.

She later told The Lake Report that she specifically ran for public office to bring the benefit of her experience in tourism to the table.

She argued excluding her from weighing in on talks like these would “significantly impede my commitment to public service.”

Though council approved Burroughs’ idea, it reached the decision by treading through some murky procedural waters.

Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa, who chaired the meeting, said council would have to reconsider a former decision before it could debate Burroughs’ proposal.

That requires a two-thirds majority vote.

Burroughs challenged Zalepa’s ruling that it was a reconsideration item but lost the vote.

He then withdrew his proposal and told The Lake Report later his motion had been combined with other amendments he couldn’t support.

The other amendment he was referring to was O’Connor’s pitch, which was packaged together with his.

He also said he was “a little frustrated” at the time.

Though council accepted the lord mayor’s ruling that the proposal on the floor reconsidered a previous decision, it voted with a two-thirds majority to reconsider the decisions it made on patios at a meeting in January.

Council then rejected O’Connor’s idea but endorsed those proposed by Burroughs after Coun. Nick Ruller decided to put the veteran politician’s motion back on the table.

Evan Loree, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report