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May. 18, 2022 | Wednesday
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Queenston Mile wins approval as estate winery despite opposition
Queenston Mile Winery's rezoning application to operate as an estate winery was approved by town council this week. (Dariya Baiguzhiyeva/Niagara Now)

Despite loud public opposition, Queenston Mile Winery’s rezoning application to operate as an estate winery was approved by Niagara-on-the-Lake council Monday.

The rezoning application, recommended in a town staff report, was passed after some amendments were proposed by Coun. Clare Cameron.

Cameron told council she would not support the staff report as it was presented.

“To say I’m disappointed with the contents of this report would be an understatement,” she said, noting when council directed staff to consider some recommendations back in July, staff was to work with the applicant on “compromises” and “creative solutions.”

“And what we received back in the report was, ‘Sorry, nothing can be done. Nice ideas, nice try but nope,’ “ Cameron said, adding the only way she could vote in favour of the report was by imposing certain conditions. 

Council approved two of five amendments proposed by Cameron: that cooking equipment not be installed and that the site plan define the use of square footage for particular purposes including a clearly defined and permanent wine production, processing and storage area, retail space, hospitality area and any other uses.

Maria Mavridis, owner of Corks and Orzo restaurants on Queen Street in Old Town, said the opponents are not against a new winery but, “a winery needs to be a winery.”

“By approving this (application), you’re opening the floodgates to allow every barn out there with 20 acres” to be converted into a facility with an on-site restaurant, Mavridis told council, noting the winery won’t be paying commercial taxes while her family pays $80,000 a year in taxes.

At the July’s council meeting, Queenston Mile general manager Alison Zalepa said the company is not asking for a restaurant but for a commercial kitchen.

One of the arguments against the application was in regard to the winery’s septic system.

In a septic permit, dated October 2018, Niagara Region granted the winery owners permission to use its new sewage disposal system. But the owners were responsible for completing the remaining work, which included adding seed or sod to prevent erosion and maintaining drainage to direct surface water run-off away from the tank and tile bed area.

In a letter to Queenston Mile, a private sewage system inspector Caitlin Wood said, “wine production cannot occur on-site as the sewage system is not designed to accommodate the industrial wastewater.” 

At the council meeting Monday, Rick Wilson, the town’s manager of planning, said the Region of Niagara’s septic permit was dated over a year ago. He told councillors the region was “very much aware” of the ongoing issue surrounding the application and the recent correspondence the town has received from the region also showed it was satisfied with the existing septic system, he said.

“The region accepted that any wine production wastewater would be transferred off-site,” Wilson said.

At the meeting, Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery’s winemaker Martin Werner showed councillors a letter from Phil Lambert, the region’s director of infrastructure planning and development engineering. In the letter, dated Sept. 3, 2019, Lambert said, a “holding tank is not permitted for winery wastewater and an on-site sustainable treatment system is typically required.”

Ravine owner Paul Harber said their group, comprised of NOTL residents and business owners who have been opposing the application, will appeal the council’s decision under the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, regardless if the winery owners also appeal the decision.

“We just don’t believe they’re an estate winery,” Harber told The Lake Report. “There’s a rulebook to play by. We play by the rulebook.”

“Not even within a calendar year of being open ... they haven’t lived by any of the rules of the farm winery. And now they’re wanting even more ability to take advantage of the Niagara-on-the-Lake wine industry,” he added.

Harber said he was disappointed the winery can now operate as an estate winery, but he was also encouraged to see some amendments approved by council.