Saturday, January 9, 2016

Reporting Live From The LIve/Work Task Force

Today I decided to muster up my courage to sit in the gallery of the Live/Work Task Force Meeting.  I swore to myself that I would keep my mouth shut.  (Guess how long that lasted?)  I'm really glad I went, though. I eventually just sat in those press seats because my hearing is not that great.  Apparently, that new sound system is waiting on a staff report.

Firstly, I want to say, Good Job to all the members.  The dialogue was very respectful.  One of the biggest surprises to me was that it seems that from all members that were not on council or worked for the town, the understanding seems to be growing.  I had walked in with the prejudice that Mr. Myra, having been somewhat outspoken for not wanting home based businesses in his neighbourhood would be working against progress.  That really didn't seem to be the case at all.  It seemed as though he truly grasped the concept that it does not make sense to classify a home based business as a commercial occupancy when commercial businesses are not permitted in the residential neighbourhoods.  He also seemed to be very comfortable with the notion that if a home based business grew beyond what was acceptable in our Land Use Bylaw that it would then need to find a home in the commercial zone.  That case scenario is what we all want.

There was some discussion about removing development permits for home based businesses.  All I can say about that is, "For Heaven's Sake, Don't Do That!"  We need to understand why that permit is there.  The permit is there so that the town can ensure that businesses are indeed staying within the limitations of Land Use Requirements.  The best example of this would be a daycare.  You want to know that a Home Occupation Daycare does not have more children than allowed.  You also want to know that people are not working with dangerous equipment in their home or causing a nuisance to a residential neighbourhood.  The business owner also wants the peace of mind that some nasty neighbour can't shut them down.  (these things happen all the time)

Jessika Hepburn did a fabulous job of hammering home the point that we need to adjust the wording in our Land Use Bylaw to make it clear that a Home Based Business is still your home and does not become a commercial occupancy.
The only reason to send the building inspector would be if there is extensive construction going on.  Unfortunately, our development officer and Councillor McGee were not buying it.  They repeated how they can't interfere with the building code.  Our development officer said, "A Land Use Bylaw can not dictate the Building Code."  This is where my hand shot up, but councillor McGee said, very politely, that it would not be fair to allow me to speak.  I felt a little bit like Barbara Streisand in Funny Girl, sitting behind Omar Sharriff, trying to not give away his poker hand, but she had nothing resembling a poker face.  It's just so damn hard to keep your mouth shut when you know the answer.

So, here's the answer:  Our development officer is correct.  A land use bylaw can not dictate the building code.  A land use bylaw tells you what uses are permitted to operate in a home and still be called a home.  This then clues in the building inspector to understand what code applies to the development.  The best example I can give here is a Bed and Breakfast.  Our Land Use Bylaw tells us that you can use four rooms or less in a Bed and Breakfast and it is still considered a residential occupancy.  Anything above that and it can not operate in the residential zone and is no longer a home occupation.  For some strange reason, the town seems to accept this.  Perhaps they think that there is a definition for a Bed and Breakfast in the Building Code.  There is not.  If the building inspector used only the Building Code to define a bed and breakfast he would have to come up with Motel or Inn and all sorts of commercial code would come into play.   The town also insists that they can not tell the building inspector what to do.  This is also incorrect.  They need to inform the building inspector about their land use provisions.  Simple.  That is called proper management.  It works like that in Halifax.    It is one department communicating with another.  What I really do not understand is why our development officer, who is not a certified planner,  does not get in contact with certified planners working in our province and find the answer for herself.  There are list servers set up specifically for this purpose.  It's almost as if she is being instructed by administration not to find the right answer.  But that's just my mad hatter speculation.

Susan Hudson did a wonderful job of bringing the Ivany Report into the discussion repeatedly.  Ultimately, it is what we need to use as our measuring stick.

Lastly, I had a nice conversation with Gladys, who is on the task force and runs a small hairdressing salon from her home.  I could see that she did not feel it was fair that she was asked to make changes to her home back in 1997 and that she is being made to pay commercial property taxes on the portion of her home that is being used for her business.   It's unfortunate  that she was made to do these changes because it seems as though her business is less than 25% of her home and since she established her business after the town adopted Land Use Regulations the town should have ensured that the building inspector understood that her business was not a change of use.  She wondered aloud if the town would reimburse her for all the commercial taxes she has had to pay over the years.  I doubt that would happen, but we certainly can move forward and stop charging commercial property taxes on a residence.  Bed and Breakfasts currently do not pay commercial taxes.  The rules should be equitable for all.  After the meeting, I enjoyed hearing her reminisce about the town when she was a child.  She described how there were small home based businesses everywhere, how you never had to leave town to buy necessities.  I think we can get back there one day.  If people can come to Lunenburg and establish small, appropriate businesses in their homes then they can support shops like Stan's Dad and Lad, owned by Mr. Myra, get their haircuts at Gladys' place, buy hats from me, purses from my neighbour, rum from Ironworks, coffee from The Laughing Whale, women's clothes from Luvly, gifts from Jenny Jib.  And when there are enough people here to support year round businesses in the commercial zone, more will come.  It's all part of a healthy economic circle.  We just need to understand that home occupations are not commercial businesses, but we support each other.  This understanding will only make Lunenburg even better than it is.

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