MONTREAL -- A Montreal suburb is stirring up debate over a plan to charge its citizens to reserve picnic tables in city parks.

A draft bylaw by Dorval city council proposes charging $10 for residents to reserve a picnic table for four hours and $25 for non-residents.

A spokesman for the city says the idea arose after COVID-19 caused a surge in demand last year, leading to complaints from people who weren't able to find a table.

Sebastien Gauthier says the idea has prompted a flood of questions from residents who worry about access or are angry at the prospect of paying for something their taxes cover.

"It all goes back to last year, because of the pandemic. There were a lot of people looking for things to do, and because we have so many beautiful parks in Dorval, I think people got the idea to have a look, and we were a bit overwhelmed with the amount of people that came into our parks," he explained. "Following that, we received a lot of complaints from our citizens that they weren't able to access the park and access the installations in their park, so this measure was really put in place to try and respond and give something, give a solution, to the complaints that we received on that front."

Gauthier says the reservation system will apply only in two of the busiest parks and only on weekends, and it's not necessary to pay for a table in order to use one that hasn't been reserved.

He admitted there’s been “quite a lot” of backlash to the plan.

“It's been an uproar, would be the exact word. I think people are mostly upset about the fee. I think they get why we're doing this. The objective is really to prioritize our own residents, but they feel that fee is exaggerated,” he said.

Gauthier said it’s important to remember it's not mandatory. If a picnic table is free, people are able to use them as usual, but the fee offers an option to reserve for a special occasion.

“You have your kid's birthday party with friends, and you want to make sure you have the picnic table for the four-hour slots… the reservation, allows you to have. So that's the kind of instances we want to help out with.”

He said the city is also open to reviewing its plan and making changes to the bylaw before it's scheduled to be adopted at a meeting on May 17.

Gauthier said the city is welcoming other suggestions.

“If people think that they have the perfect solution, absolutely, send it off,” he said,, adding people having been chiming in on Facebook and through emails to the city. “If we can find something better for sure we'll, we'll look at it.”

LISTEN ON CJAD 800 RADIO: Heads up West Islanders, you may have to pay for a picnic table in Dorval this summer!


-- this report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2021. With files from CTV News Montreal's Emily Campbell.