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Jul. 7, 2020 | Tuesday
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COVID-19: NOTL considers allowing restaurants to open patios
Town restaurants could be permitted to use sidewalks and some parking spaces for patios when the provincial government allows them to reopen. (Richard Harley)

The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is looking at ways restaurants and businesses might be able to expand onto municipal property to allow them to reopen and to help with social distancing.

Interim CAO Sheldon Randall said the process is “fairly involved” and would involve all communities in NOTL. 

“We’ve looked at all the municipal spaces that we may be able to encroach into,” he said during Monday’s council meeting.

“We’ve taken prints, we’ve had discussions with store owners … to get an understanding of what sort of space can we create that’s going to be a benefit.”

He said the town is focusing on areas from the sidewalk to the curb, considering eliminating parking along Queen Street and looking at how restaurants might be able to expand patios on their own properties, such as parking lots.

“There’s a lot of things we’re going to need to consider, and that’s creating a space that’s safe enough and so on,” Randall said.

He said more time is needed to check with the town’s legal counsel.

“Some of the challenges will be, if you want to expand on your property, you have to make sure you can accommodate the customers, get into the buildings and use the washrooms, and have the ability to wash hands and things like that.”

Staff has also been out monitoring vehicle and pedestrian traffic and to see how it would impact these changes, he said.

Lord Mayor Betty Disero said the town's main concern is safety, and as of Tuesday does not want to close off Queen Street to all traffic.

"We don't really want to — at this point — close Queen Street completely, because that will drive the traffic into the small residential streets," she told The Lake Report in an interview.

"So, our staff and members of council have been working very closely with individual restaurants and pastry shops to find out how they can access space outside of their establishments, either on their own private property or on public property, with the least intrusion on the sidewalk and traffic," she said.

When asked if businesses encroaching on sidewalks would force people to walk around on the road, she said, "Let's see."

"They're coming up with a plan now, so let's see how the plan looks and how people can be accommodated, and we'll go from there," she said.

"Again, the intrusion into the residential street, to just say we're just going to close it and not look at any other options, will be havoc."

Coun. Wendy Cheropita, who is the council representative on the Chamber of Commerce's board, said that organization has been working on the same idea, and that she’d like to be involved in the town's decisions, so the chamber and town are not working “simultaneously on the same projects.”

She was eager to put forward a motion that would “fast-track” the process.

“Let’s work on it now so that by the time the province OKs the restaurants to reopen, then at least we have a plan in place, and we have approvals that are already there,” Cheropita said.

She pointed out there are also many restaurants outside of Old Town that could benefit from expanding or creating patios.

“I was in touch with a number of restaurants … like those in Virgil, like the Twisted Vine, the Pie Plate … the Garrison House … Backhouse, Willow,” she said.

Randall clarified that the town is already working on the process and would be giving consideration to all restaurants in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

“It’s baby steps right now. We want to make sure that we have a safe, fair, legal way to accommodate and we need to iron out a few more things with our legal counsel. And once we have we will continue to expand.”

He said the town has one full-time engineering staff member working on it.

Cheropita said it “pleases” her that the town is working on the same thing. During a debate on the issue, she said she wanted to create a notice of motion to fast-track things.

Disero said she was concerned making a formal motion would do the opposite and fill the process with red tape.

Randall agreed.

“It will move forward," he said. "But I agree with the lord mayor that I don’t think we want to tie ourselves to a process right now, until we have all of the information.”

Cheropita said she’s “not sure why (the town) would want to delay it.”

Randall clarified that in fact the town is already starting the process.

“We are starting the process right now,” Randall clarified. “That’s what we’re doing.”However Randall was clear that there needs to be more legal advice and a consultation with the heritage committee before moving forward.

Still, Cheropita wanted to make her motion.

“The motion is to open a process that can be fast-tracked to allow restaurants and food service providers to be able to expand their outdoor space to adjacent properties, parking lots, to enable them to accommodate social distancing,” she told council.

In response, Randall provided some “clarity.”

“When we’re talking about restaurants that may be encroaching into the municipal right of way, we already have a process mapped out for that. And we’ve consulted with our legal on it … so that process is covered off. We know what we’re doing,” he said.

“So you’re asking for something that’s happening,” Disero told Cheropita.

“Well, it seems like it’s sort of happening,” Cheropita argued.

“No,” Disero said. “The problem as I see it Wendy, is once you start a formal process, it’s going to create some red tape that we may not be able to act as quickly as we can.”

Disero urged Cheropita to wait a few days and work with the town on the motion, before putting something in place that would create more “red tape.”

Cheropita agreed to wait and discuss it with the town's emergency control group.

“If you think we still need (a motion), we’ll move it,” Disero said.

Gary Burroughs said retail shops should also be considered for expanding, as many of them also have limits on numbers of people that can be in the business.

“There’s a lot of businesses on Queen Street and they’re not all restaurants," he said. "And certainly if the sidewalks are to become bigger, some of those shops could do, because they have limited space inside, and so they should be considered."

He also requested again that council be informed and consulted on emergency group decisions.

“All I’m saying is that we have a vast amount of knowledge on this council and we’re never contacted about our ideas, about the restaurants, about other shops — about anything. And I think it’s important that we draw on that expertise, rather than the emergency group just moving ahead and saying, 'OK, we’re going to do restaurants, we’ve got legal, we’ve got everything else,' ” Burroughs said.

“There’s a lot of shops that need help and maybe that can work into your expanded plans for no parking and all of those things. So, all I’m asking is maybe we can ask council to participate at some point and get our opinions.”

Disero said the plan right now is to focus on preparing to open restaurants when the province makes that announcement.

"That is our top priority at the moment," she said.

"Once we've done that plan, we will have at council probably a fullsome discussion on everything on Queen Street and what to do moving forward. But the emergency team wants to be prepared and ready should there be an announcement in the next two to three weeks about restaurants."

 

 

 

SIDEBAR: Burroughs wants council more involved

     

“As far as council members wanting to participate more actively, again I know most of you are very busy and don’t have any time, but for some of the councillors there’s regular conversations and they’re reaching out and were engaged … we’re happy to do that with any council members,” Randall said.

“I think what maybe some council members don’t understand is that things are changing daily. And sometimes we make a decision one day thinking we’re going in one direction, and then there’s changes from the province and we’re going in a completely different direction the next day. And I think at times it’s hard enough for the (emergency operations centre) to keep it straight, and then also to be able to be communicating certain aspects of it, it just becomes challenging. But I do understand, if there are ways that we can, we will.”

Burroughs asked if any councillors are present at the group's meetings.

“What I’m saying is that your meetings, your emergency group meetings, there’s no councillors that go to that, it’s just the emergency group.”

Randall said that's true, except for Disero, who is a member of council.

“Well, of course the lord mayor — a lot of us think you are the emergency group … so, I’m not quite clear on the communication or the route to get ideas that each of us might have to the emergency group. I just thought the reach out would come from the other way.”

Randall said if Burroughs has “any questions, thoughts or concerns, you’re more than welcome to call the lord mayor, myself or any other director. We’re more than happy to work through any thoughts of challenges you’re having.”

Burroughs said he appreciated Randall's comments, but still thinks council should be in the loop.

"I’m just saying on this open for the restaurants, even that concept, it’s a tough concept for just the emergency group to be dealing with, when there’s so many other businesses that are struggling, and everywhere," Burroughs said.

Sheldon said the town has engaged members of the business community, such as the president of the Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re doing the best we can to engage as many people as we can and yet still keep functional.”

Disero reminded Burroughs the emergency group has been consulting with four members of the business community — NOTL Chamber of Commerce chair Paul McIntrye, Shaw Festival executive director Tim Jennings, Winery and Grower Alliance of Ontario chair Del Rollo and Virgil Business Association president Richard Wall.

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