Kingston Council to hear new motion on refreshment vehicles during Homecoming

Kingstonist file photo.

A new motion coming before Kingston City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, could see food trucks at Queen’s University and the University District open for an extended period of time during select fall events, including the school’s upcoming Homecoming celebrations. Moved by Sydenham District Councillor Conny Glenn, the new motion calls on the City to waive the section of the Business Licenses bylaw that relates to permitted hours for “refreshment vehicles,” in order to allow food trucks on campus to be open until 2 a.m. (rather than the usual 11 p.m.) “during the designated periods of the University District Safety Initiative (UDSI).”

According to Glenn, the motion came following discussions between herself, City staff, and members of the university’s Alma Mater Society (AMS).

“[Licensing and Enforcement Services] Director [Curtis] Smith and I met with the AMS to discuss how things have gone over [the] move-in [period] and to discuss the upcoming Homecoming and what we could do in the short time that we had to hopefully make a difference,” she said of the inspiration behind the motion.

According to the councillor, whose district includes much of the university area, the new motion is part of a series of efforts to “defuse” Homecoming celebrations, which have an unfortunate history of getting out of hand, leading to noise complaints, drunk and disorderly conduct, and other problematic behaviour.

“Often what we see is a large concentration of people in a small area. We know that we’re going to see a lot of alcohol consumption going on. The harm reduction strategies that the AMS took on by having their own food trucks… are a step in the right direction,” she remarked.

While the AMS has offered food trucks during Homecoming events in the past, permitting the vehicles to stay open later than 11 p.m., the time by which most refreshment vehicles in the city are required to close, will allow Homecoming organizers to offer attendees food and non-alcoholic beverages for an extended period of time.

“The decision was made to see if we could encourage… more food trucks to be out and available and maybe in different locations and to extend the hours. We know people are out at those hours, so this [motion] gives Director Smith the discretion to waive bylaws as needed,” Glenn said.

Even though the motion would allow the City to grant an extension for refreshment vehicles, language is included which would give the Director the ability to revoke such extensions “in their reasonable opinion.” Councillor Glenn explained, “Rather than having him come back to call an emergency meeting of Council, he has the power, for a two-week period, to do the necessary things to try and ameliorate the situation with the Homecoming events that are going on.”

While partiers will be able to enjoy Homecoming celebrations on university campus for an extended period of time, offering expanded food and non-alcoholic options will hopefully make organizers better able to keep all attendees safe.

“We’re going to extend those hours and give people the opportunity to enjoy themselves, but with a bit more harm reduction in place, by being able to eat food and… get access to water and things,” explained Glenn.

The councillor also noted such a move will hopefully reduce the number of intoxicated persons who end up in local emergency rooms.

“I really don’t want to see the emergency room overwhelmed. We know that our health care system is still struggling… But fingers crossed that this is another step in the right direction to getting a handle on things,” Glenn said.

Despite the fact the motion would effectively give approval to certain Homecoming activities well into the early hours of the morning, Glenn noted efforts to support other district residents as well.

“This is trying to see what we can do to take the pressure off the district in the neighbourhood, whenever these events are ongoing. So, we’re building that relationship with Queen’s,” she said, noting that the City of Kingston’s town-gown relations working group has been working to identify additional strategies to mitigate the impact of Homecoming and other activities on the broader community.

“We’re hopeful that, through that body, we’ll be able to come up with some other strategies and ideas to just take that pressure off [and] decrease the intensity of what we see down there.”

With Homecoming — scheduled for October 20 to 22 — fast approaching, the councillor for Sydenham District noted additional safety measures which will be in place during the weekend.

“We will proactively close the [Gord Edgar Downie] Pier at night during the UDSI period. It will be open during the day should anyone want to go swimming… It will be open at 6:30 a.m. as it was before; we’re just going to close it down at night to make sure we don’t see the large gatherings over there,” Glenn said.

This year’s Queen’s Homecoming comes on the heels of a busy move-in period, which saw Kingston Police issue over $40,000 in fines, despite the UDSI being in effect. Even with the high number of fines issued, Glenn said the efforts of bylaw officers and Kingston Police are paying off.

“I think we did a good job this year at move-in, to be quite honest. I was very happy that the police and bylaw [unit] took a very strong approach… Because of the way they approached it this year, we saw dispersion,” she expressed.

“I think the message is getting out there: we don’t mind you having a relatively quiet party, [but] we’re not going to have that kind of behaviour continue to disturb the neighbourhood.”

Glenn’s comments were echoed by acting Chief of Police Scott Fraser, who addressed Kingston City Council on September 19 as part of the Kingston Police Services Board quarterly budget report.

“I think the message is getting through. From what I’m hearing from our officers who are on the street weekend-to-weekend… we’re seeing students who are indicating [they] know what’s going on,” he said of efforts to curb illegal behaviour during student parties.

Should Glenn’s motion pass, the relevant section of the bylaw would be waived from October 14 to November 1, 2023, with this year’s Queen’s Homecoming set to take place from October 20 to 22. If the program is a success, Glenn said, the plan could be reintroduced for future UDSI periods, including the popular St. Patrick’s Day celebrations held each March.

The new motion will be presented to Council for debate during its meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, at 7 p.m. inside Council Chambers. Full meeting agendas are available on the City of Kingston website. Meetings are open to the public and can be streamed live (or viewed after) on the Kingston City Council YouTube page.

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