Last week I gave an overview of what was happening with a family who was hoping to open a Balkan Restaurant in a building that used to be a bar near the downtown. (Click here to read it.)
You might remember that they came up against a roadblock: the building is no longer allowed to be used for a commercial activity because a three year timeline to renew its use had just expired.
A few of us on Council took up the case and tried to find a way to enable them to purchase the building and open their restaurant. I've recorded a video (you can watch it above) to explain the options that were available and how things worked out in the end, but here's a quick overview.
What's zoning got to do with it?
Council was going to ask staff to amend the three year timeline to four years. The timeline is in place because when the City last set zones for different parts of the city, it zoned this neighbourhood as "residential." Some businesses were already operating in the area, so they were allowed to keep operating as a "nonconforming use."
The point of zoning, however, is to ensure all properties in that area are being used for appropriate activities. So while some properties are non-confirming, the expectation is that over time they will all eventually conform to the zoning. That's why we have a three-year timeline for allowed uses to be "renewed." If they don't renew, then the building reverts to the zone they're in.
Council's plan to extend the timeline to four years would have enabled this restaurant to go ahead, but the thing is that the policy would have to be "retroactive" because the three years have already passed. If we did this, then there could be many other owners of properties that have lost their non-conforming status in the past coming back to the City to request commercial use.
This could be a major distraction and create needless problems and liabilities, so it quickly looked like an unappealing option.
How can the City help?
There were three other options open to the aspiring restaurateurs:
Apply for a rezoning of the property to "commercial." This would be very complicated, involve many steps including public meetings and legislation changes, and would likely be a major strain on the proponents and the community.
Amend their proposal to use the property in a way that conforms with the zoning. The option they would have is to be a catering business, preparing and delivering their food from that location. But this family wants to run a restaurant, not a catering business.
Back out of the purchase (they haven't bought the building yet) and find another property.
A positive outcome
The family chose the third option, and in fact it was one of our staff who took the time to go out and find another appropriate commercial building for sale. I've actually spoken with the family a couple of times and they are feeling very positive about their project and prospects to open a local Balkan restaurant in our community!
The big takeaway for me is that while they can seem unfair or frustrating sometimes, we have policies and regulations to maintain order and clarity in how people and businesses can operate in the city. In cases like this, it's Council's role to work with residents to work with or around the rules as best possible.
If we stay positive and persistent, we will always find a solution!