Town still working on permanent patio program

Town staff continue to work on a permanent seasonal patio program for food and drink establishments in the Old Town, but also have extended the current temporary program operating since 2020 by adopting a bylaw last week that allows it to run until 2025.

This comes after direction council gave to staff earlier this year to create a new program that doesn’t need to be renewed each year, which is the case with the temporary program that will continue this March to October.

But while taking care of the temporary bylaw to extend what has already been in place, Coun. Sandra O’Connor brought forward an idea at a recent committee-of-the-whole meeting to create a fee for businesses with patios that occupy municipal parking spaces.

Her suggestion was not added to the report before councillors last Tuesday, after Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa said it was out of order, and staff agreed.

Zalepa argued that O’Connor’s amendment falls into the category of a reconsideration of a decision already made.

“That should have been a decision to make when we had the report before us,” said Zalepa, referring to the recent direction council took when it chose to keep the temporary plan in place for another year, until a more-detailed, permanent one is brought for consideration.

Planning director Kirsten McCauley said during last Tuesday’s meeting that what was before councillors was a zoning matter and that issues such as fees could be part of the process as a new program is worked on.

“All of that information will be coming through the more permanent seasonal patio program,” she said.

O’Connor settled on her idea being submitted as a notice of motion.

The extension of the existing temporary use within the urban area will allow for the continuation of the program without application of any zoning bylaw provisions for the 2024 season, and provide time for staff to prepare a seasonal patio program and report back to council, staff said in its information report.

In January, a motion from O’Connor was discussed over a staff report on the next steps in keeping the patios open eight months a year.

She was seeking her colleagues’ approval to sunset the temporary program, terminating it until a permanent one is enacted.

It was defeated by councillors, who later elected to allow local eateries to continue sitting patrons outside on patio extensions this year from March to October.

At that time, O’Connor argued that her motion should be considered because of the impact patios have on an already “inadequate” parking situation downtown, as well as on public benches.

The program started as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and is similar to efforts made in other municipalities in Niagara to support their respective local businesses.

In Old Town, there are almost 40 businesses eligible for the program, but only seven participated last year,

McCauley told councillors during January’s discussion.

Kris Dube, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara-on-the-Lake Local