You may have heard the story this week of a family who were so close to opening a Balkan restaurant, but at the last moment had their application rejected by the City. This is disappointing and frustrating, and I'd like to share with you how this happened.
The Letter of the Law
The Husic family were looking to open their restaurant in a building that for decades has been allowed for commercial use. The area the building is located in zoned "Residential," but because it was used as a bar before this zoning was implemented many years ago, its commercial use was defined as "non-conforming" and allowed to continue -- as long as its use was renewed with the City within three years.
Frustratingly, the three-year time limit passed in June, before the application to open the restaurant was submitted to the City. And while it seems so obvious that Council should just ignore this minor technicality and allow the permit, the fact is that we would almost certainly be sued by at least one neighbour -- and we would most certainly lose, forcing us to take back the permit anyway.
What Can Be Done?
I'm personally wavering as to whether I should encourage Council to do what feels right and direct staff to grant the permit and hope that we don't get sued. But that would be reckless, so I'm trying to think of other options - and am open to your ideas in the comments section below.
In any case, we should definitely update our regulations to extend the three-year limit, or at the very least implement some automatic notification system that reminds staff and the public when this time limit is set to expire.
Unfortunately this still won’t help the Husics because it will take a long time to change the regulation and we won't be able to retroactively grant the permit.
That does bring up the issue of our development regs. After several years we finally have a new version drafted and there is a huge opportunity to make sure they’re progressive and flexible in these cases. I’ll be writing about that soon, but please try to come to the information session taking place at City Hall on August 29 3-5PM and 7-9PM.
Why is it important to support small businesses?
This issue is especially tough for me because I have been a big advocate of small business while on Council and in my personal and professional lives.
Mixed use neighbourhoods are a good thing because they make them more appealing and encourage people to interact with one another, strengthening the community. A sad aspect to this is that one neighbour in particular seems to be against commercial use in that location, but this person should recognize that neighbourhoods evolve. We have to accept and welcome this low-impact activity.
Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. If we want to protect ourselves from the craziness of oil and gas, we need a vibrant and diverse local mix of businesses and activities, and supporting small independent operations offers great value.
A final point I'll make is that, while the reason to deny the permit to the Husics was purely due to a legal constraint, it reminds us that we have to be welcoming and supporting to immigrants and newcomers. Our population is aging and in some cases shrinking.
It is critical to our economic sustainability that we encourage and help people from a wide diversity of backgrounds to contribute to our communities -- particularly when they are creating new jobs, like the Husics were hoping to do.
Please share your thoughts
I don't think the story should end here. Please let me know below what you think and whether you have ideas on how to help the Husics -- and all residents -- pursue their dreams.