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Niagara Falls
Saturday, April 13, 2024
Town defers Queenston Mile decision after hearing loud public opposition

After hearing vocal opposition to Queenston Mile Vineyard’s plan to operate as an estate winery, NOTL council narrowly decided to defer a decision on the application.

Last week, Coun. Stuart McCormack made a motion to send staff recommendations back to staff. His proposal suggested removing a commercial kitchen space from the report and to include a more comprehensive buffering zone between the winery and the neighbouring residents.

McCormack also asked to move the entrance to Concession 6 from  Queenston Road, have staff review and report back on its feasibility.

In a close vote Monday, town council approved McCormack’s motion. Town staff is expected to meet with the applicant to discuss the suggestions and will report back at the next council meeting in September.

Meanwhile, the applicant can appeal the decision to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. 

What defines a restaurant has been a hot topic among Niagara-on-the-Lake’s residents and business owners for a long time.

At the committee of the whole meeting last week, the Queenston Mile application to operate as an estate winery faced strong opposition.

Alison Zalepa, general manager of Queenston Mile, told council Monday the company is not asking for a restaurant but for a commercial kitchen. She said the wine industry in Niagara-on-the-Lake is drowning.

“And the wineries you think are profitable are probably not,” she said.

Town staff recommended approving the winery’s zoning bylaw amendment application and allow it to operate as an estate winery. Queenston Mile currently operates as a farm estate winery at 963 Queenston Rd.

The difference between an estate and a farm winery is that an estate winery can produce and sell wines made from locally grown fruit. Meanwhile, a farm winery has to grow, produce and sell wines made only from fruit that is grown on-site, according to the town’s official plan.

Marion Hassebroek, who lives across from the winery, expressed disappointment over the staff recommendation and said she can hear winery patrons as they leave the building.

She also raised traffic and safety concerns as drivers often miss the winery’s entrance, hit the brakes and then turn around in neighbouring driveways. She said no traffic study was done by the town and she witnessed buses having to navigate through the narrow driveway.

Maria Mavridis, who owns Corks and Orzo restaurants on Queen Street, said downtown business owners have seen a “substantial decrease” in sales and have to pay “astronomical” property taxes, ranging from $38,000 to $80,000.

She added she doesn’t have any issues with NOTL wineries and supports them, but she is asking for fairness because if Queenston Mile is granted an estate winery licence, it will have an advantage by having free parking, controlled wage costs and agricultural taxes.

Steven O’Melia, who spoke on behalf of the applicant, denied the claims, saying lawyer Thomas Richardson, who represented 15 opposing parties, didn’t provide planning rationales for the town to reject the plan.

He added the application meets the municipal, regional and Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority requirements. He said hand-crushing, fermenting and bottling take place on-site and high property taxes are also not proper planning rationales.

The kitchen equipment is not hooked up, O’Melia noted. It was “optimistically purchased” in advance and has been stored – some of it still wrapped – and there’s also no legal requirement to return it, he said.

At a special committee of the whole meeting last Wednesday, Rick Wilson, town’s director of planning, confirmed the applicant didn’t request to be a restaurant nor to hold outdoor special events.

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