Food and drink establishments in Niagara-on-the-Lake can now start applying to expand patios on private and municipal space, the town announced Tuesday.
The expansions will come into effect Friday, pending town approval, which businesses can obtain by completing the town’s temporary patio permit application form.
At Monday’s meeting of council's committee of the whole, Lord Mayor Betty Disero said the form is “user friendly” and without “red tape,” with respect to private property.
Business owners must ensure they are “in compliance with guidelines provided by the town, the province, and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario regarding size, occupancy and health regulations,” the town said in a statement.
Disero said she, interim CAO Sheldon Randall and the town’s director of planning have been going out to discuss the situation with restaurant owners and that she would be calling businesses to let them know they can apply.
“I'll be calling myself tomorrow to tell them that they should be applying for space, public or private, although I suspect will be mostly private property,” she said.
The town is also considering closing side streets near Queen Street, to keep parking and traffic open on the main strip.
“For example, let's say Victoria Street on the north side, if we close from Pie'za Pizza to Queen, it will still allow … people to stop and rest and not be so crowded on Queen Street. But yet it still allows for parking and traffic on Queen. So it's something we're looking at trying,” Disero said.
She said there has been mixed reaction as to whether the town should close Queen Street.
“It is a really mixed bag down there in terms of positions, I guess, with respect to Queen Street closed or not. And we also would have to deal with tenants' parking, because there is a significant number of tenants that actually live on second and in some case, third floors at the stores that are there,” she said.
Interim CAO Sheldon Randall said the town is still looking at ways to streamline the application process for restaurants.
He said the town will be seeking some “general information about the details of the patio, where it's going to be on the property, if they'll be providing any type of cooking, or anything that would be required for serving their customers.”
The town also will want to know the hours of operations of the patio (especially if it's adjoining residential properties), whether the business is going to require any electrical services, which will need to be approved. The main concerns, though, will be from the fire department, Randall said.
Bylaw officers will be following up with any complaints about the operation of the patios, he said. Another task for the town will be to explain to anyone opening a patio that it’s temporary.
Restaurants applying for municipal space will also have to get insurance.
“All of this sounds like a lot of things, but they're very easily done,” Disero said.
Randall said the process shouldn’t be too complex.
“To me, it doesn't seem like it's going to be overly complicated. It's just the volume that we're gonna have to deal with. Again, we may require some of our staff to work overtime and we may have to put some temporary additional resources to it.”
He urged restaurants to start the process right away.
“We encourage any restaurant that's considering creating outdoor patio space to start the process as soon as they can. And again, we're not really understanding yet what the volumes of that could be. We are expecting it to be more than 10 but maybe less than 50. So that's still quite a few applications that we're going to have to process.”
Coun. Gary Burroughs asked how the emergency control group, which is overseeing muncipal operations during the pandemic, could close Queen Street, and whether that was a decision that should be made by council.
“The emergency group seems to be have the authority to close streets. And I'm wondering how that can be. Would that not be a decision of council?” Burroughs said.
Disero said “with delegated authority, not necessarily,” however she would likely bring the motion to the next council meeting to have it approved.
Randall said the town can close the street under delegated authority.
Burroughs said he’s “dead set against closing Queen Street.”
Coun. Clare Cameron said she’s been contacted by businesses that are “really keen to start expanded patio arrangements” and asked what type of process the restaurants will need to go through.
She asked if the heritage committee would need to be consulted regarding things like signage and umbrellas.
Randall said that because the expansions are temporary and are technically a special occasion permit, a heritage permit it won't be required.
However, councillors were told tents or “more permanent” structures might need a heritage permit.
Coun. Wendy Cheropita commended council for getting the procedure in place quickly.
“I think you've just made a lot of people very, very happy and you might have saved a lot of businesses from demise. So, this is a really wonderful initiative that has come to fruition.”
In the town's news release, Disero said, “Town council and staff are happy to work with local food and drink establishment owners to accommodate temporary outdoor patio space.”
“We know how difficult these past few months have been for our restaurants, bars, wineries and breweries, and we are hopeful that the temporary allowance of outdoor patio space will help to safely increase business and aid in boosting our economy.”
Randall also commended town staff for getting the process ready quickly.
“I would like to commend staff for their diligent effort in responding to provincial guidelines and creating a thorough application process for business owners,” he said. “Town staff is committed to working with business owners to ensure the safe, temporary expansion of outdoor patios in compliance with provincial guidelines and AGCO requirements.”