More than 30 restaurants in Niagara-on-the-Lake have temporary patios thanks to emergency legislation that was passed during the pandemic.
The NOTL council plans to grant a third permit extension to the restaurants that operate temporary patios but staff admits it has homework to do before it can make these patios a permanent feature.
At a meeting of the committee of the whole Jan. 24, staff came to council looking for direction on whether to pursue a permanent solution for the temporary measure.
Director of development Kirsten McCauley told council that restaurants can continue to use temporary patios without having to compensate the town for lost parking fees associated with patios built over on-street parking spaces.
Nor would they be charged an application fee.
However, if the town replaces the temporary patio program with a permanent one, “A fee would need to be implemented to offset additional staff resources,” a staff report said.
It will take almost 20 hours and $1,500 for staff to process each permit, the report said.
“That seems like a long time,” Coun. Wendy Cheropita commented.
Coun. Nick Ruller, the former fire chief, and chief administrator Marnie Cluckie pointed out that it was feasible for a permit like this to involve half a dozen town departments.
Ruller said the clerk, bylaw, finance, road, building and planning departments each might need to review a single patio permit.
However, Coun. Gary Burroughs felt “a lot more input” was needed before the town could make the patios permanent.
“It has affected the streetscape of Queen Street. Is that the shape and form that we want to move forward? Is that what the businesses want?” he asked.
“I think we need to do a little bit more,” he added.
Staff research into the permanent patio solution will commence once the patio extension receives final approval, likely at the next council meeting.
Reed Davidson, a line cook at the Sunset Grill, told The Lake Report the restaurant gets lineups out the door during patio season.
“People come down here for the look of the town,” he said.
“Those window spots over there, always the first seats to go,” he added, referring to seats by the restaurant’s street front window.
Davidson remembers when restaurants were closing their doors at the start of the pandemic and how many career cooks like himself had no job security.
Patio extensions were a big help, keeping restaurants open at a critical time.
The Sunset Grill seats almost 80 people in the winter, but its patio extension adds nearly 30 more seats, he said.
That translates to a significant and welcome bump in business, said Davidson.
Coun. Maria Mavridis – who also runs two restaurants Corks Wine Bar and Firehall Flame on Queen Street – said she had a different experience in 2020.
The outdoor seating at Firehall Flame is allowed under the temporary patio program.
The additional 18 seats it provided were not a financial game changer during the lockdowns, Mavridis said.
“It helped us keep our employees employed,” she said, but as the 86 indoor seats were still inaccessible during lockdown, they weren’t bringing in any revenue.
Mavridis did not declare a conflict of interest in the debate over the patio program, and noted it was not necessary.
“It’s not directly for just my patio,” she told The Lake Report. “It’s for the entire community.”
According to the Municipal Conflict of Interest act, council members do not have to declare a conflict when benefiting from services also provided to the wider community.
She said her restaurants are still recovering from the lockdown.