Dysart et al council signed off on giving a pair of new entrepreneurs a break Feb. 22 after municipal officials found an application to increase capacity at the old Baked and Battered restaurant violated township parking bylaws.
Veronica and Taylor Van Leeuwen had spent months coming up with ideas to grow their new business after taking ownership in late 2021. After discontinuing the bakery, they decided to change the layout of the downtown eatery. They submitted a building application to allow for more seating inside, but days later their hearts dropped after being hit with a municipal bill for $27,000.
Planner Kris Orsan informed council the restaurant did not have enough on-site parking to justify the number of seats the Van Leeuwens wanted to add, as per municipal bylaws. The bylaw states there must be one parking spot per nine sq. metres of floor space. With a proposed seating area of 369.1 sq. metres and only 16 on-site spots, Orsan said the restaurant was 27 spots short of the 43 required to meet standards.
Given the lack of space available, Orsan said the business qualified for a program where they could pay a one-time fee in lieu of providing parking. This would, theoretically, give the municipality the option of upgrading existing parking options in the area, or develop new parking space of its own to offset the overflow. The payable rate is set at $1,000 per deficient space.
This was news to the Van Leeuwens, who said they were not aware of this bylaw prior to purchasing the business.
Mayor Andrea Roberts asked if this issue had ever come up at the site before, under previous ownership. Jeff Iles, Dysart’s director of planning, told council there was no record of any prior issues.
“Then the seating capacity must not have been calculated properly prior to [the Van Leeuwens] purchasing the restaurant,” Roberts said. “Even if they were to reconfigure, there isn’t enough space inside to add that many new seats to all of a sudden [exceed the bylaw].”
Iles said the township’s most recent documents permitted seating for 30 people at the restaurant. The Van Leeuwens’ new application sought to increase that to 100. Veronica estimated when she bought the business, there was seating for around 60 customers.
“How can the previous owners have no payment, then this huge, unexpected amount be charged to the new owners? It doesn’t make sense,” said Coun. Tammy Donaldson.
In an effort to help the new business owners, Coun. Nancy Wood-Roberts suggested council reduce the bill by 50 per cent, bringing the total owed to $13,500. Council voted 5-2 in favour of that option, with John Smith and Walt McKechnie opposing.
Patios to return
Restaurants along Highland Street will be permitted to transform parking spaces in front of their businesses into patios to support outdoor dining again this summer.
In a report to council, CAO Tamara Wilbee said seven spots in front of McKeck’s Tap & Grill, Maple Avenue Tap and Grill and Kozy Korner would be culled to make room for the patios. The space will be offered to businesses free of charge.
“I very much think we should be supporting this. It’s going to be years for businesses to recover from what’s been happening [with the pandemic]. Anything we can do to enable them to get back on track, we should,” said Coun. Larry Clarke. “It will cost us in terms of a few parking spaces, but those spots don’t mean anything if we don’t have businesses there for people to go into.”
Treasurer Barbara Swannell said there could be an opportunity for Dysart to use federal Safe Restart funding to offset any losses by the township.
After spending months compiling information for a new book documenting the history of Drag Lake, area resident Charles Wheeler told council he believes they should do more to support the Haliburton Highlands Museum.
“The museum is a great asset to this community, but we think it needs further investment by Dysart,” Wheeler said.
He suggested the municipality create a digital archive of all the information the museum has on-site, while also improving signage along Hwy. 118 providing directions to the facility. He also recommended the museum boost its online presence, and provide options for people to make donations through their website.
“George Santayana said that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it, but for history to be learned it has to be visible and accessible,” Wheeler said.