Streetside patios across the municipality will continue to be a staple through 2022 – and possibly forevermore.
Niagara-on-the-Lake councillors Monday voted unanimously in favour of extending the temporary patio program for all of next year. They also discussed making the program permanent.
“There’s no question in my mind that patios are here to stay,” Lord Mayor Betty Disero said.
“People like them on Queen Street, they like them in Virgil and in other areas.”
Scott Gauld, owner of the Sunset Grill on Queen Street, sees the decision as nothing but a good thing for businesses, residents and visitors.
“It’s great news,” he said in an interview.
Gauld built a roadside patio outside the Sunset Grill in 2020 thanks to the town’s temporary patio program, created as a response to COVID-19.
“Patios have been a lifesaver. All restaurants would have been in a really big bind without programs like this throughout the country,” he said.
Disero looked to the future and asked chief administrator Marnie Cluckie if there could be a streamlined way for restaurants to apply for their patios as permanent fixtures.
Director of operations Craig Larmour said, in Old Town, the solution is simple. Restaurants could apply for their patios, which spill onto the street and remove viable parking revenue for the town, and pay a fee to cover the lost revenue.
In other areas of the municipality, like Virgil or St. Davids, restaurants would have to apply for a minor variance or zoning bylaw amendment to make the patios permanent since the addition would change the approved layout of the sites, Larmour said.
But such details will be worked out in the future.
Disero wanted staff to start considering ways to simplify the process for restaurateurs before it becomes an issue at the end of next year.
The mayor wants the town to be able to reach out to restaurateurs and say, “If you are looking at keeping your patio long-term or forever, this is what you need to do. Get them going down that process sooner than later.”
Gauld said the Sunset Grill would absolutely apply for a permanent patio on Queen Street if the town made the option available.
“We’d be willing to adapt to whatever council and the heritage committee thought fit best in the town,” he said.
“We’ve tried to do our best to put the best patio out there that we can and we’ll likely do a big refresher on it before the 2022 season.”
Disero said the patios have been a positive change on Queen Street.
“I like them. I’m sure that they’re helpful,” she said. “They bring more busyness and a sense of people wanting to be down on Queen just to sit and watch people walk by.”
“(Patios) bring a certain vibrancy to the town that we didn’t have before. People are outside on the street earlier and later in the day, which is good for everybody,” he said.
“It’s a beautiful place to sit. People just like watching people, watching traffic and enjoying the scenery.”
Gauld said people are more comfortable sitting outside than they are inside due to COVID and he doesn’t think that is going to change after the pandemic is over.
Disero suggested the town consult residents and store owners in the new year about how patios could be responsibly incorporated onto Queen Street.
Coun. Gary Burroughs said he was in favour of the temporary program but was not ready to throw his support behind permanent patios on Queen Street.
“It amazes me that council, this particular council, looks at our Queen Street and the whole of historic Niagara-on-the-Lake as things that need change when we’re probably internationally known better than any other community,” Burroughs said during the committee of the whole meeting.
He reminded councillors the program was started because restaurants were not allowed to have anyone inside their establishments last year due to COVID-19.
“I think we need to move cautiously to suddenly change the whole of Queen Street that everybody’s come to know and, I think, to love. I’ve certainly loved it since I came here in '64.”