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The owner of a bright red double-decker bus converted into a restaurant is shutting down and selling off the beloved Leamington roadside attraction after running afoul of municipal regulations.

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Following a decade parked along the approach to Point Pelee National Park, Birdie’s Perch is closing permanently, along with the neighboring Pelee Trading Post, both of which are owned by Kathleen Yetman and her family. The land goes up for sale this week.

“We’ve had a wonderful run. I wouldn’t change a thing,” Yetman told the Star on Wednesday.

Trouble began for the popular outdoor eatery in 2016 when it opted to replace its on-site portable toilet facilities with a more substantial and accessible washroom trailer, she said.

The washroom required approval from the Essex Regional Conservation Authority, a process that took almost a year, she said. But adding the washroom then also triggered a building permit requirement and prompted a closer look at the property by the municipality.

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To comply with municipal bylaws, Yetman said she was advised the gravel parking lot where the restaurant on wheels sat needed to be paved, out of concern for safety. Drainage issues would also need to be addressed.

Such an undertaking required Yetman to submit a site plan application ahead of opening this spring. Although she hired an engineering firm to work with the municipality on a site plan, they couldn’t come to an agreement, she said.

“I want to make it very clear that we understand that we need to be in compliance with all municipal law,” Yetman said.

Kathleen Yetman, owner of Birdies Perch, is pictured on Wednesday outside the distinctive red double decker bus that had been converted into a restaurant on Point Pelee Drive.  It's now being sold after the owner and the municipality couldn't reach a site plan agreement.
Kathleen Yetman, owner of Birdies Perch, is pictured on Wednesday outside the distinctive red double decker bus that had been converted into a restaurant on Point Pelee Drive. It’s now being sold after the owner and the municipality couldn’t reach a site plan agreement. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald told the Star that Birdie’s Perch could remain open if it had come forward with an acceptable site plan. The municipality allowed the restaurant to operate in 2021 on the condition that a site plan would be ready for 2022, but the deadline has passed.

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“They haven’t come up with their end of the bargain. It’s really in their court,” MacDonald said.

“You can’t make exceptions. The same rules apply to everyone and, to some, they may not be palatable, but they’re still the requirements.”

Many of the site plan requirements are provincial regulations, the mayor said.

MacDonald called the restaurant a beloved “beacon in the community,” a destination spot with “great food.” She added that council “loves this business” and wants it to stay open.

“But we also know what our responsibilities are to the public and to the ratepayers,” she said. “This is a responsibility we have to make sure standards are met and people are kept safe.

“I understand people are frustrated right now,” she continued, noting the previous two years of pandemic restrictions. “But we have to be consistent and we have to treat everyone the same. We’re trying our best to do that.”

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Although Birdie’s tried to backtrack and remove the washroom trailer from the lot, to operate as it did before 2016, Yetman said the site plan changes were still required.

Yetman said there is “heartbreak involved” in the restaurant’s closure, noting 15 “wonderful” staff members will lose their jobs. “But the future is the future. The most amazing thing has been the support from our community.”

Since posting on Facebook on Sunday night about the Birdie’s Perch closure, Yetman has received an outpouring of support from customers. In only three days, the post was shared more than 1,000 times and garnered more than 2,000 responses.

Yetman said she’s not fighting the town and now wants to “celebrate the joy that we had.” She expects to see the red British double-decker bus “show up somewhere and shine again,” but she says it “wo n’t be with the Yetman family.”

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