By John Swartz
Orillia council met Thursday afternoon for a special meeting of council to amend the Emergency Measures by-law to limit the amount of people allowed into retail stores greater than 20,000 sq. ft.
“Recent observations and concerns have been expressed lead us to believe further measures should be put in place,” said Gayle Jackson, Orillia’s chief operating officer. “The concerns and observations primarily relate to the large number of people within retail grocery stores.”
“The impact of the lockdown in York Region and Toronto, we certainly have folks that are travelling throughout and visiting Orillia and even though the province is stating to people to stay and not travel, observations suggest there is certain travel occurring. Orillia has no ability to restrict that travel.”
Mayor Steve Clarke backed up the staff report saying, “People coming here from the lockdown zones is an issue. We’re seeing record numbers of cases, COVID cases in Simcoe County.”
“1.1 million people in York Region went into Grey Zone lockdown Monday and they will be looking for places to shop and get services elsewhere.”
Many residents have been complaining in various forums about congested stores and assert many shoppers are from the GTA. Mayor Clarke said the greater concern is the ability of hospitals to handle any further increase of COVID-19 patients, or any other patients requiring intensive care.
“Hospitals in Red and Grey Zones have been asked to increase capacity by 10 to 15%. That means putting other procedures and operations at bay for now, which can put people’s health at risk, so we need to minimize the amount of capacity we need to increase.”
Clarke also said this action is different than previous actions regarding people visiting Orillia.
“I believe this is somewhat unlike the waterfront parking measures we brought in the summer. That had to be done in short order and although it seemed to be fairly popular with the residents of Orillia, certainly our visitors and our surrounding neighbours didn’t feel quite the same way. This measure will not have the same negative impact on our community at large and outside of our borders.”
Councillor Ted Emond asked if any other municipalities were taking this course of action.
Jackson said she was not aware of any, but several municipalities have asked for copies of the staff report and of the proposed by-law council would be voting on because they have similar concerns.
“I had a conversation with (Barrie) Mayor Lehman, so I know they are contemplating this type of action,” added Clarke, He also said he’s had discussion with Severn Township’s mayor, Mike Burkett.
The provision is to limit the number of shoppers to 50% percent of Fire Code occupancy allowances in stores larger than 20,000 sq. ft. For reference, fire chief Brent Thomas said Giant Tiger is a 20,000 sq. ft building.
The province has placed limits on most retail stores, but left the door open for big box retailers, which has upset many smaller businesses. Clarke said while many complaints he knows of come from people with general concerns, there are many coming from businesses owners who have shopped at big box stores too. Councillor Ted Emond added his first hand observation.
“There is one retailer we frequent in the City, I’m not sure of the size, that is not practicing safe separations and is allowing many people beyond what they should in the store. It is also a store that attracts a very high percentage of out of market individuals,” Emond said.
“Ted you bring up a very good point and I would encourage anybody who is aware of that situation to get a hold of legislative services and by-law will go out and visit,” said Clarke.
Councillor Mason Ainsworth supported adding to the by-law for two reasons.
“There are restrictions in place for a lot of smaller businesses. Whether they are local people or people coming up from the City as the report states and go to the large areas where many people can be inside and they are creating these bigger groups and not adhering to social distancing policies and such, which I believe is big cause for the rise in numbers, and we don’t want to see that trend continue.”
“The second part of it is supporting our small local businesses in the community. I personally don’t believe it’s fair they are seeing a lot of restrictions while other big box stores, for instance, are not seeing the same restrictions, so it just makes sense to me we have an equal playing field for our businesses in the community to help them out.”
Council passed the motion and restrictions will begin at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)