Port Dover businessman sees problems with sidewalk patios & offers some solutions

I’M not “anti-development” and I hope this is not considered as a rant, though I know some feel that way.
I care about Port Dover enough that when I see things I do not think are good for this town, our family’s town, our friend’s town, I can’t help but to voice my opinion.
My family, friends, co-workers, have worked hard to create a town that we can all be proud of. A town that I can be happy that my kids and their friends are growing up in. This is not new. It’s the same kind of town we all grew up in.
The recent revelation that the county was proposing to subsidize some local businesses at the expense of others, really hit me hard.
My family pays huge taxes, in the $100,000 range per year, on property that we purchased through hard work and a lot of sacrifice. We pay taxes on our buildings, on our parking lots, on the “free beach” that my family owns, that benefits every business in town and therefore every resident. We also pay maintenance and insurance on all these properties. Our 200+ employees also pay taxes and contribute to Norfolk County and Port Dover’s economy.
When we bought our business, we took into consideration to supply ample parking for all of our customers and staff, at each location. We also “inherited” many cars seeking somewhere to park but had no intention of patronizing our business. As well, many businesses use our lots for staff parking.
It’s the price of doing business in Port Dover. There was a study done a few years ago, and published in The Maple Leaf, that showed the Knechtels and Schneiders, by far provided most of the parking spaces in Port Dover. Besides the lots at our restaurants, we purchased the beach parking lot to be available for tourists coming to town. The Schneiders also did the same by purchasing the Arcade property at Walker and Main, to accommodate tourists, patrons, and staff at a considerable cost.
Now I read of a proposal to subsidize some places on Main Street who did not have the foresight to buy an adequate property to meet their demands, though I know one is only doing it to remain competitive, and we are going to pay for it! Where are their lost parking spots going? Where are their added customers and extra employees going to park? Where do their owners park?
What about liability? What if someone falls in the patio or on one of these walkways, or if a customer leaves drunk and kills somebody. This is County property. The people who are affected by this will sue “The County” (the “deep pockets”) and the restaurant. “The County” is ultimately you and me, the taxpayers. So now we are not only subsidizing their business but also carrying their liability for any litigation.
People have been complaining to me, “Oh Peter, it’s only a few parking spots and it’s for the good of Dover.” I and my family have always been “for the good of Dover.” We live here. What about the unfair competition practices for the rest of the businesses in town, particularly Main Street? Why can’t Yin’s, or all the other cafes and bakeries have a “bump out patio”? Why can’t the retail stores have summer-long sidewalk sales such as Stoney’s? Paul and Bob of Stoney’s paid a lot of money towards the Lewis Parking Lot. So did the Board of Trade, Kinsmen, Lions, and Lighthouse Theatre. We thought parking in our core was that important. It cost a lot of money to accomplish it and we spent many years to realize it. Where would we be today without it?
Where will this end? Should we put boardwalks up both sides of Main Street? What may be a needed fix in Simcoe’s downtown is not necessarily a good retro fix for Dover. Our downtown is in good shape. Of course, there will always be some turnover. We don’t need to be micro-managed. We have a unique, vibrant group of businesses. That’s why we love it, and that’s why so many people are coming here. We are not a façade town; we are a real working town.
There have also been suggestions that I’m afraid of competition. Not true. I was on the directorship of The Board of Trade when Tim Hortons proposed to come to town — a direct competitor to my family. People said I should oppose it, and I said no, not that I could anyway. My reply was that my friends wanted Tim’s and if we couldn’t supply that then I have no right to oppose it. Tim’s also plays by the rules. Our only concerns were about design and traffic patterns on that busy corner. I’m not sure we won on the traffic issues, but we definitely won on the design. We suggested we had issues with their design. They said, “Ok, how about this?” Simple. I think it’s the best-looking Tim’s in Ontario, if not Canada. Their original design was the “cookie cutter” Tim’s we all know. This one looks like Dover. Something to be proud of.
The same thing with Dairy Queen, who will also be a direct competitor. We have not said a word in opposition, although we realize they will have an impact on our business. I have no opposition as long as they play by the same rules as everybody else.
I’m just wondering how long it will be before Dairy Queen asks “The County” for a “Bump Out Patio” on what is possibly one of the busiest sections of Main Street? And, honestly, why shouldn’t they?
Though this is not what I think is the best solution, but maybe a start, participating businesses should be paying the County — that’s us — “Cash in Lieu” of parking, and rental on the encroached County property. There should be a yearly lottery as to who is entitled to this benefit. They should also serve the County with proof of a sizeable liability insurance coverage. This should not be a one-time payment. It should be a yearly payment. Just like the rest of us.

Peter Knechtel
Port Dover

Writer wants public meeting on sidewalk patios

ONCE again, we see our County of Norfolk staff recommending an idea before they have done sufficient (or any) public consultation. Sidewalk patios on Main St. in Dover are in the same category as a ginseng field adjacent to a soccer field, or a marathon on Front Rd. on the opening of bass season. These debacles can’t be allowed to continue.
The County just spent a large sum of money to improve Main St., not only for the business owners, but also for the walking public (the business owners’ customers).
The new sidewalks have an anti-slip surface that is level and wider than before.  A disabled person now has a measure of safety navigating with their canes, crutches, walkers, rolators, wheelchairs or mobility scooters. To put up impediments to persons that have physical problems is unthinkable, and is a gross violation of the intent of A.O.D.A. legislation, and Norfolk County policy.
Outdoor displays against store fronts are a time-honoured tradition. Opening the sidewalks to these restaurants should give any other business owner the right to use the full width of the sidewalks for displays, effectively cancelling all parking on Main St. What is wrong with this picture??
Speaking of parking, the parked cars provide a measure of protection for pedestrians on the sidewalks: a wooden fence does not.
A public meeting needs to be organized immediately, before this project gets off the ground.

Alan Hobbs
Port Dover

Posted: April 13, 2017

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