Saturday, January 9, 2016

Farewell to Nova Scotia - The Sad Finale - Harris House

This is the final installment of the letter I received from Jane at Harris House in Annapolis Royal.  This painting, done by her husband Michael Hames, is called Persevere.   I suppose that is the message I am taking from this heartbreaking letter.  Persevere.  Work for change, so that Nova Scotia stops losing this kind of talent and vision.  Some representative of the province should be banging on their door with a big check begging them not to go.  That would be an excellent use of our tax dollars.   You can see more of his art work on their web site as well as their incredible restored antique lighting.

Jane's Letter:

Around the time that we began to rearrange our space to accommodate the lighting fixtures, we were in for another shock. Two and a half years after our arrival, we were told that our property assessment had gone up some eighty thousand dollars, based on what we’d paid for the property (they were finally catching up). So our taxes (a quarter of which were twice the rate, being commercial) were to shoot up accordingly. We would be paying in taxes, for our humble, vinyl clad house next to the Post Office dumpsters, more than the longer term owners were paying for the mansions on St. George Street. We would be paying, even while only a quarter commercial, more than most of the commercial building owners on St. George Street were paying. I know this, because I did the research.

 We contacted the then mayor, but of course were told it was not up to the town. We asked if there was some way we could at least put more than the one allowed and size-restricted sign up for our business. We had by now abandoned advertising the gallery, as we needed our one sign to advertise the potentially viable business, antique lighting. We paid the town yearly to have a small sign in market square, but it wasn’t enough. “You want more taxes,” we argued, “yet you refuse to help us (by way of allowing signage) to earn the money to pay them!” The mayor himself shrugged, but suggested we talk to another local businessman, which we did, and he agreed to let us put a sign on his fully commercial building. We then went before the local planning and heritage committee with our cause and they agreed to let us put a sandwich board on the sidewalk until such time as they could accommodate the smaller businesses that were outside the main shopping area with a sign pointing the way to visitors (this still hasn’t happened four years later except for one for the favoured few shops on upper St. George).

 We were to be allowed one sandwich board only, and only with a choice of three spots. The spot we chose was next to the bank, and we suggested it might be safer to put the sign on the grass rather than the sidewalk. It turned out that the grass was the bank’s property, so we were to ask permission, which was granted by the bank (with a strong suggestion that I move my business account there, which of course, I did.)

Not long after, we received a letter from Town Hall requiring us to remove the sign from the private commercial building, immediately. Many more emails were thrown around with Town Hall, to no satisfaction. No one could explain to me why the sign on the bank’s private property was okay but the one on the other private property (at the mayor’s suggestion, remember) was not okay. We thought we’d just ignore it for a while (by now getting a little used to the harassment) but eventually the owner himself asked us to remove it, as he had decided to join the Planning and Heritage board himself and didn’t want any hassles.

Funny thing about the signs. The Town Hall, in an effort to make Annapolis Royal visitor friendly and welcoming, sent out a notice asking shops to put welcome signs, etc rather than the usual Open or Closed signs. An extremely ugly, damaged wire mesh fence separates our property from the Post Office property, and I had taken to hanging a large Welcome sign there, in an effort to pretty up the spot and of course alert people down the street to the fact that there were more businesses up the street on St. Anthony. Yes, you guessed it – a week after the above mentioned letter, I was sent a letter from Town Hall instructing me to remove my offending Welcome sign—had I forgotten how many signs I was allowed?


Well, it goes on and on; I won’t bore you with more. I came to think of the town as one of those boxes of chocolates all wrapped up so pretty with satin ribbons and oh, so costly, but when you open it up you find the candy is stale and flavourless and maybe even poisonous, so very sick it makes you.
And finally, what happened last year, what was our final straw as I say, I can’t even discuss, as I was given a gag order. But the really, really sad thing is, we’re just a tiny, rather unusual little business, and just two quiet, busy people who moved here for a peaceful lifestyle. Yet the never ending harassment we received since our arrival has turned us into people we don’t even recognise any more. And even more  sad is that we’re only two of a staggering number of people we have come to know that have had similar experiences.

 How many people were lured here with assurances that they could live their dreams only to find the “interpretation” of the rules thrown at them and shattering those dreams only after they’ve been allowed to sink everything they had financially and otherwise into the area’s coffers. The lady who hoped to open an old fashioned home-made candy store down the street, told only after they had collected $ 1500. for a rezoning application that no, not at that particular property, but she could have antiques. Next door to her, the elderly couple that sank oodles of money into the most derelict home on the block, only to be told afterward that art studios were not allowed in her outbuilding, but she could rent the space to lawyers. Seriously? Or the lonely divorced lady who came with the B&B dream and bought the house big enough for a dozen people, only to be told after spending everything she had in preparation for opening, that sorry, you can’t, this town has a moratorium on B&Bs, but you may be able to turn the home into a few rental suites, as long as you…….

I was outraged but not surprised to hear of your plight, Anna. We went from thinking that Lunenburg County was a refuge from the horrors we experienced in Annapolis Royal to realising that it would just be a fire to frying pan situation. If this letter helps in some small way, I’ll be pleased. I had looked forward to one day saying to visitors to my little Riverport shop, “Be sure to visit the Hat Lady of Lunenburg.” 

Instead, we’ll be leaving another empty home in Nova Scotia to once again start its inevitable decay, as prices keep dropping and we still can’t sell. Perhaps when we hand the key over to the real estate agent, he won’t mind painting a rosy picture, but I find it hard to recommend the property to a potential entrepreneur after what we went through, although its location makes that the only viable sort of buyer we could hope to find. It’s not appealing to retirees, this rather large house in a not so very quiet neighbourhood (no matter what that long ago building inspector proclaimed). Families?  The town took what was left of our front yard for a sidewalk in 2010, and parents understandably don’t want their children running directly into the street. So we’ll keep dropping the price and hoping for a miracle.

And Nova Scotia? Perhaps someday we’ll return, as we’re still smitten with your original charm. But to those running this province, you’d better pull up your socks. If you want to attract creative people with a bit of money and a lot of enthusiasm and energy, then you’d better do some serious housekeeping. If you want people to come here and help revive a dying province, you’d better pay attention. Don’t take their money and then give them the cold shoulder. Ask the newcomers who come here with their dream, “What can we do to help?”

I wish you all the success in your fight, Anna. I’ll be thinking of you and hoping that your enormous efforts pay off. I know how much this is going to, has already taken out of you, and small business owners throughout the province should be singing your praises. I know I am. And so I’ll end this rambling rant with the words of that beloved and time honoured folk song:

”Farewell to Nova Scotia.”

Most sincerely,

Krista Jane May

Harris House Antique Lighting

Annapolis Royal, NS (until Sept 30th)

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