'It's heartbreaking': Leamington landmark will remain closed because of an unpaved parking lot and drainage issues

Birdie’s Perch is a take-out restaurant on Point Pelee Drive near Leamington, Ont. on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. (Michelle Maluske/CTV Windsor)

Birdie’s Perch, a popular take-out restaurant near Point Pelee National Park, will not be reopening for the busy 2022 tourist season.

“We would like to get back to work,” owner Kathleen Yetman told CTV News Tuesday in an interview. “It's very frustrating. It's heartbreaking.”

Yetman says, however, they knew this could happen.

“We made an agreement with the town last year,” says Yetman. “We were told and understood that we would not be allowed to open in 2022 until all of these issues had been addressed and all taken care of.”

Yetman says when they put in bathrooms at Birdie’s Perch it activated a building permit. That triggered a closer look at the properties, specifically the parking lot, according to Leamington’s mayor.

“We’re in a conundrum here,” Mayor Hilda MacDonald says. “That's been part of the reason it's taken so long to get where we all need to be.”

MacDonald says to start, the restaurant falls in a “grey area” for municipal bylaws.

Although Birdie’s Perch is housed by a double decker bus, it is not mobile and so, is not considered a food truck but rather a building.

Then there is the issue of the parking lot, which is currently gravel, and the owners wish to pave, to create 95 spaces.

“As soon as you hard surface that parking lot, there are drainage issues. Those have to be met,” says MacDonald.

“It’s a very difficult area to drain,” says Yetman who notes their properties abut Sturgeon Creek with Lake Erie on the other side of the road.

“We haven't been able to come up with a plan that would satisfy the County, satisfy ERCA (Essex Region Conservation Authority) and satisfy the municipality of Leamington,” says Yetman.

Yetman says they are now working with a second engineering firm to find the solution. They have been told it could cost upwards of $850,000 to pave the lot in front of Birdie’s Perch.

“I don't expect to be above municipal law. I understand why we have these bylaws in place. And we were hoping that something could be resolved and we would be allowed to open,” says Yetman.

The deadline to submit their site plan has now come and gone.

Yetman announced the closure of Birdie’s Perch on social media over the weekend and the post has already received more than 1,000 shares and 2,000 interactions — most of them negative and asking town hall to step-in.

“All of us on council love that restaurant. It's an icon. It's a destination place,” but MacDonald says their hands are tied.

“The rules come from the top down from the province, you have to have a site plan,” says MacDonald. “We have rules and regulations that need to be met that are applied across the board. And we cannot make any exceptions despite petitions. We can't do it.”

Yetman tells CTV News “everything is up in the air” but they aren’t ready to give up their businesses, which have been operating for 10 years.

“I have too many great memories,” says Yetman. “I wouldn't change a thing.”