Thursday, September 6, 2018

Lunenburg Issues Stop Work Order for Imagining a Restaurant

In an unprecedented move, The Town of Lunenburg issued a stop work order to local developer, Scott Sherman, for imagining a restaurant.

Mr. Sherman, who owns several commercial properties in the Town of Lunenburg has had a hard time finding a long term tenant for his property located at 112-118 Lincoln st, in Lunenburg.  It's a beautiful building, but too large for many retail stores. Thinking his space would make a great restaurant, he commissioned SME Solutions, a Mahone Bay based virtual staging service, to create virtual images of the interior as a restaurant.

Within hours of  Mr. Sherman posting  these images on Facebook, the Town of Lunenburg sprung into action. Bypassing the usual protocols of a site inspection, walk by or a phone call, the town's  heritage officer issued an official town letter stating, "All work shall cease immediately until the proper permits are in place.....We anticipate that you will comply with this order immediately."

Mr. Sherman immediately responded and inquired if permits were necessary for imagining. This question motivated  a drive by inspection.  After confirming that the development in question was not happening in the actual world,   the town issued a short apology letter and conceded that there is no current bylaw which prohibits imagining developments .

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Better To Ask Forgiveness Than Permission. R.I.P Nova Scotia's Home Based Business Association

Our ninety-one year old neighbour, Robert, once told us a great story.  He said that when he built his house in Lunenburg he was told that he couldn't have a garage.  He started building his garage.  The building Inspector would come by regularly and tell him to stop building and Robert would pick up his hammer and bang in one more nail. After several more visits Robert was thoroughly annoyed and he said, What's the fine for building my garage?  The building inspector answered, twenty five dollars.  Robert opened his wallet, gave the man twenty five dollars and that was the end of that.  The garage stands to this day.

Better to ask forgiveness than permission, he told us.  Actually, many people told us this very same thing. I should have listened. It is the Nova Scotia way.  It's not a perfect system by any means, but it's charming and it works most of the time.

Some time back, now, my Upper Canadian self looked at the rules regarding home based businesses in Lunenburg.  They seemed reasonable and accommodating, so I walked into Town Hall and asked permission.  Oops.  Little did I know that this one little act of anti-Nova Scotian behaviour would trigger a Tsunami of hardship.  I won't rehash the hash, but I became the centre of a long political battle and, in the end, the rules were provincially clarified to support me and all the other Home based businesses in Nova Scotia.

I came through the other side battered and bruised, but convinced that if the multitude of home based businesses in Nova Scotia banded together we could become a force to be taken seriously by politicians.  We are all so tiny, but put us all together and we are a huge part of  Nova Scotia.  We could support each other, improve the rules and help to repopulate rural Nova Scotia by encouraging other home-based business owners to move here. Seemed like a great idea, but I had left out one key piece of information when forming the association.  I had not factored in the unspoken Nova Scotia rule.  Better to ask forgiveness than permission.

I had naively thought that all the graphic designers, writers, hairdressers, artisans, artists, tailors,  dog groomers, piano teachers, composers and cookie bakers who filled the homes of Nova Scotia would jump on board and from there it would be clear sailing.  Instead, what I got were 20 people who said, great idea, a small handful of people who actually offered to help and thousands of people who put their heads down and said, what's the problem?  My life is good, nobody is stopping me from doing what I do, so, no thanks.

I recently started knitting (yes, this really is relevant).  Somehow, the rhythm of the stitches has given me the strength to stop fighting.  I love my life.  I love Nova Scotia. I love my work.  I know I have something special.  I have found a way to survive in a province where making a living is not an easy thing to do.  I have a sustainable business model. It is sustainable because I don't have to pay store front rent.  It is sustainable because I get an average of one customer a day in the tourist season.   Between the farmers market, wholesale orders and online sales it's just one more egg in my basket. One customer a day, in the summer, also leaves me plenty of time for producing work (when I'm not knitting).

Last week, another artist who had rented a storefront on the main street of Lunenburg, packed up their shop in the middle of the night and left before the summer was over.  Same thing happened last year.  People visit Lunenburg and see the streets filled with tourists and imagine that this is an easy place to be an artisan.  They soon discover that most of the tourists are looking for cheap souvenirs.  And so,  they sit in their shops, talking to visitors, not selling and not producing work.  It's a very expensive lesson to learn.  Not to say that it can't work, but it's really hard.  As a province, we could be encouraging artists to do what I do, but we aren't.  We are charging artists commercial property taxes to work from their homes.  It's stupid.  I earn under $30,000 a year and I pay an additional $700/yr just to have a studio from home.

If every artist in Nova Scotia was being charged commercial property taxes to work from home we'd probably have a home-based business revolution or, at the very least, a viable association.  But that's not the case.  Having lived in Lunenburg for 10 years I know of so many home-based businesses.  Many of them even have signs.  Not permitted signs, but who cares?  Nobody is stopping them.  Nobody is enforcing the rules.  Fine with me.  I'm not in the business of ratting out fellow business owners.

Like I said, it's a system, but not a perfect system.  Occasionally, the tax assessor walks by, sees the sign and decides to apply commercial property taxes.  Occasionally, Town Hall/City Hall sees the sign and tells you you need a permit.  Occasionally a neighbour complains and without a permit you won't have a leg to stand on.  Occasionally Town Hall sends in your development permit to the the tax assessor.  But it's only occasional.  Sometimes they do.  Sometimes they don't.  Sometimes they enforce the rules.  Sometimes they don't.  Depends who you are and who you know.  It's the Nova Scotia way.

There's only a problem when there's a problem and most of the time there isn't.  Sucks for the person who gets targeted, but so long as we collectively buy into "better to ask forgiveness than permission"  that's the way it's going to stay.

I have always been a fan of good rules.  Good rules create equity, harmony, health and safety.  Rules are meant to support people.  Rules can be modified and improved to meet present day reality. I completely see how we can improve and encourage entrepreneurship and the arts, but we can't get there when the rules are blatantly ignored by both residents and by those whose job it is to enforce the rules.  We can't get there when politicians only solve problems when there is a crisis.

It's my sincere hope that some politician, somewhere in this province, will see the value in improving the rules for home-based businesses to be more supportive.   Supporting home business means supporting families, artists, the disabled, entreprenurs, senior citizens and population growth in our province.  It's a worthy cause, but I don't have the time, money or desire to fight for a solution to a problem that most people don't feel exists.  I'm going to stop beating my head against the wall and go enjoy my life like the rest of you. (You should see the sweater I'm making.)


Friday, April 13, 2018

Halifax Versus The Greeting Card Lady

The story of how the city of Halifax almost shut down a home-based, online,  Greeting Card Making shop can be found on the Home Grown Works blog.  Just wanted to make sure that followers of this blog did not miss this story.  Click HERE to read the story.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Is Lunenburg Council Looking Away?

Lunenburg’s new, young, energetic, progressive, educated and very qualified Deputy CAO quit after only a few months on the job.
So sad.  I really liked her.
A number of years ago we had a really great town planner.  She left. So sad.  She was such a helpful person.
A few years back, a young man moved to town with his wife and young daughters to become our new heritage officer.  They bought a house here, made friends and connections and after a very short time, he left his position, they sold their house and moved away.  So sad.  I really loved that family.
I don’t know what is happening at Lunenburg Town Hall.   I’m not there and it’s not my job to know.  It is, however, the job of Lunenburg council to know.
It’s so easy to not know. It’s so easy to look away.   The news has been filled with sad stories and the many people who enabled these experiences by looking away.  Have there been any exit interviews conducted?  If not, then Lunenburg council is looking away. Just like all the other people in the world who have looked away.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Every Municipal Politician Should Read This

Bridgewater, Nova Scotia had a problem. A big problem.  A pipe at their sewage treatment plant broke, sending horrific amounts of human waste into the Lahave River. People were upset and took to social media to express their outrage.  That's not a bad thing, but angry citizens freely expressing themselves on Facebook is not exactly the safest zone for local politicians to enter. Most councillors or mayors just stay out of it.  Very understandable, but also kind of sad because, when used properly, social media has the potential to be a great tool for direct communication between elected representatives and their constituents.

I'm sharing this Facebook message from Bridgewater's mayor, David Mitchell, because this is what great direct communication looks like.  He doesn't belittle citizens for their passionate posts.  He doesn't try to spin the message to be prettier than it is.  He simply informs, tries to promote understanding and asks people to do better.  The bar has been raised in Bridgewater.

Here's his message:

UPDATE: The repair is complete.
The crews worked to repair what was an infrastructure failure into Pumping Station Four on South King Street. First, I would like to thank our staff and council for being open, proactive and transparent with the public. The CAO and I spent a lot of time with local and provincial media and on Facebook explaining the situation and the course of action required for the fix. It is important to us, good news or bad that you know what’s happening. It’s important to me that you are not disconnected from your town.
As I’ve stated here before, this was a broken pipe. These things do happen whether pipes are new or old. We replace our older infrastructure as much as we can, recognizing that we must do so within our financial means. To put things into perspective, two years ago we replaced all the older pipes under the section of King St just south of the old bridge. That cost millions of dollars (without the park) and was less than a kilometer in length. We have over seventy kilometers of piping under our streets so this is not a short term problem. This is the reality every single town across Canada faces. Our country has an infrastructure deficit that we are all trying to catch up with. It will take time and money, both of which are in limited supply.
When failures like this happen, it’s not as simple as turning off a tap or plugging a pipe. Doing so would’ve backed wastewater up into every home on the West side of the river and then we’d have another kind of environmental disaster on our hands! Projects like this take time to literally engineer a safe and lasting solution. It does us no good to cut corners in the fix, only to have something break again and again. We must also ensure the people working on the fix are safe.
It’s easy, especially on social media to point fingers, yell and scream without the facts but it’s certainly not helpful or productive and in this case, changed neither our course of action nor the outcome. I have travelled around Nova Scotia and to municipalities across Canada and I can say with a great deal of confidence and pride, that the Town of Bridgewater has some of the best staff…period. We aren’t perfect, nobody is but these men and women work day and night to keep things running as smoothly as possible.
Since the 2016 election, I have worked hard to change the way we see ourselves in Bridgewater. I want us to take more pride in our community. We have a lot to be proud of. We’re not perfect but we all have a role to play in making Bridgewater better. For myself, I am on virtually every social media platform available. My email and phone information is public and I am quite often found around town. I will always welcome your questions and suggestions and in fact, I encourage them. If I don’t have the answers I will endeavor to get the answers for you.
Things are going to go wrong from time to time, but we have the best people in place to do what it takes to fix them. I’m not asking you to like when things go wrong. What I’m asking is that we all be understanding that when they do, we work as hard as we can to be proactive, fix them and do our best to learn from them.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Lunenburg Designates Historic Interrogation Zone

A few nights ago I woke up confused.  It felt like the middle of the night, but the light coming through the window was telling me that it must be time to get up.  I got out of bed and looked at the clock...2 am.
My first thought was that there must be a very bright full moon, but then I remembered that the full moon had already passed.  Snow plow? Emergency vehicle? I peeked out the window and noticed, for the first time, a street lamp directly across the street from my home.

No, this is not possible, I thought.  There is no way that the town could be proceeding with the installation of these high intensity, white LED lights after the council meeting of November 28th.  In the morning I called town hall and sure enough, the bulb had been replaced.  Ann, the town clerk, was very sympathetic and told me that she would put in a requisition for a shade.  We'll come back to that shade thing later.

On November 28th, a local resident who was concerned about Lunenburg's plan to install this harsh, bright lighting in the historic district of town gave a very in depth and well researched presentation to council.
She acknowledged that the province has mandated the switch over to LED lights, but wanted to point out that we have the option of choosing the healthier and more historically appropriate soft lighting.  She spoke, at length, about all the known hazards of the harsher lights and begged council to press pause and think about the look they are creating in a national historic town.

In 2016, the American Medical Association issued an official policy statement on the dangers of high intensity LED Lights.  Some of the issues include, reduced visiblilty decreasing driver safety, retina damage and suppressed melatonin.  It is estimated that LED lights have a five times greater impact on circadian sleep rhythms than conventional street lamps.  They are detrimental to the health of birds, bats and turtles and they reduce the ability to see the night sky.  They are also just plain ugly. That last item is not in the AMA's report. A recent Harvard study also connects higher breast cancer rates in areas with higher light levels at night.

It is recommended that communities choose LED lights that limit the amount of blue light.  The lighting should have a colour temperature  rating that does not exceed 3000.  The bulbs Lunenburg is using have a colour temperature rating between 4000-5000 kelvin.

So, Lunenburg council heard this presentation and everyone smiled politely. Thank you for your research, thank you for being a concerned citizen .  We will safely file your report in  file 13 (AKA the trash can in our CAO's office). What became evident at that council meeting was that the lights had already been purchased.  It all comes down to fiscal responsibility, right?  Lunenburg has decided that being financially prudent is more important than the health and safety of its residents.

I know, I know....such statements are no way to change hearts and minds, but you try playing nice after a week of a high beam shining through your window at night.  I'm tired and cranky and very resentful that a decision that is detrimental to our well being has been made on our behalf in the name of saving a few bucks.

Let me take a brief moment to address the town's response before they have made it.  The shields.  Yes, there are shields which can help to minimize the glare.  That is all they do.  They don't minimize the health effects or the harsh light.  It was interesting that when I called the town, a requisition was put in for a shield.  These lights should never be installed without a shield.  I guess this is another money saving strategy.  Only residents who ask for one will get one. 

But I'm not quite done.  Although I am plenty outraged by the health and safety impacts of these high intensity lamps, there's a whole other issue here. This high intensity white light is not appropriate for a residential neighbourhood, let alone a Unesco Heritage neighbourhood.

Our land use bylaw is chock full of rules to ensure that a reasonable level of peace and tranquility is maintained in a residential zone.

Take this rule, for example, that pertains to Home Based Businesses (second one down):

 h) the use shall not emit noise, odour, dust, light, or radiation that would be a nuisance or is uncustomary in a residential neighbourhood.

or this one:

 Why do we have these rules?  Because when people choose to live in an exclusively residential zone, there is a reasonable expectation that they will not have to experience the noise, light or odour that is to be expected in a commercial or industrial zone.  That's why we have zoning.  Oh, no, here we go again....

Lunenburg has just installed lighting that might be appropriate on highway 103... in the residential zone.

Can you tell I'm upset?  But it's not just me.  Several of my neighbours are also irate and it turns out that a group of residents in Monterey, California just successfully sued their government for the very same issue.

I know it's probably difficult for most residents of Lunenburg to match my level of outrage.  That's because this change is happening very slowly and very sporadically.  One light here, one light there.  It's hard to feel upset about a problem that isn't impacting you.  If you want to get a feel for the situation, ask a friend or loved one to shine their high beams in your bedroom window at night. Or better yet, come take an evening stroll on my block, Lawrence st. between Duke and King and check out the ambience for yourself.  Make sure to bring your passport and don't be surprised if you hear, "Price Check on aisle five." coming from a loud speaker.

Monday, January 1, 2018

I Put down the knitting needles and learn to be an effective citizen.

I'm happy to report that for the first time in ten years I stayed awake to usher in the new year.  O.K. I was horizontal on my sofa, with a book in hand, when the fireworks went off, but I was still awake.

I have been slowly reading Graham Steele's new book, The Effective Citizen.  Not that there's anything slow about it.  It's really quite entertaining, insightful and fast paced, but these days I just can't seem to stop knitting long enough to get through a chapter of anything.  Last night I put down the the knitting needles, dove into the pages and had an epiphany.

You see, I have this little Nova Scotia home based business association called Homegrown Works.  We've got a board of officers, we have a website, we have a mission and we have a pathetically small  handful of members.  That last item on my list has been a bit demoralizing for me.  I really have had a hard time understanding how to get people on board with what has seemed to me like the easiest cause to support.

The journey through my brain has looked something like this:

1- Yay, we got this association organized, sent out a press release and now we'll just sit back and wait for the hoards of new members to sign on.

2-...waiting....hmmm, maybe I'll push this thing on Facebook a bit...I write long winded posts, get one new member.

3-Ohhhh, people are afraid that this will be contentious.  O.K. I'll do some interviews of home-based businesses and people will immediately understand the potential of this association.  Spend full days interviewing and writing...people near and far read the features.....we get two new members.

4- I go through a less than gracious thought process where I consider why the hell I should work my ass off if nobody gives a damn. I've got a business to run.  I'm personally happy.  Screw you all, I'm going to make hats.

5- My conviction that it's not enough to just be an individual, but that we also need to be citizens working for the common good keeps coming back to haunt me like the Ghost of Christmas Past. I am resolved that I need to find a way to move this association forward and get people on board.

Which brings me back to the book.  I read two things last night during my wild one woman party.  The first was a line about how hard it is to get people behind a cause.  Somehow, understanding that this phenomena is an actual thing made me feel better. The second thing I read that jumped out at me was a warning to not Bullshit politicians and try to say that you are representing a large group of people when you are not.
How did Graham know that I was going to do that?

Really, that was sort of my latest plan.  I thought to myself, heck, I've got a board of directors and an association with a web site.  Does government really need to know that we only have a pathetically small handful of members?  Maybe my big mouth will be enough.  But when I read Graham's words I understood that it was not enough.

You see, up until last night I was looking at membership numbers and what we wish to accomplish as two separate entities.  But they are not.  Reaching out to people to sign on to our association is also an opportunity to share our vision for the future and the steps we need to take to get there.  If we want to talk for Nova Scotians, first we need to talk to Nova Scotians.  Not on social media, but face to face.

So, I've got myself a new year's resolution and a new plan.  More about that later.  In the mean time, I can't recommend Graham Steele's book enough.  Head on over to your local book store and learn how to be an effective citizen.