Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Closing the Door on Community Sponsorship - an open letter to Bernadette Jordan


Dear Ms. Jordan,


I'd like to begin this letter by saying thank you   for your personal support of the Syrian Refugees in our community.  When the story of Rezan, a talented dress maker,  and myself aired on CTV, you immediately contacted me and inquired how you could go about ordering a dress from Rezan.

I'd also like to make it clear that I feel Prime Minister Trudeau has set a great example to the rest of the world with his welcoming words and actions toward Syrian refugees.  Canada has indeed done plenty. But as the United States closes their door on human suffering, we need to open our door wider.

After filming this video for CTV, Rezan and Shahnaz, the young Syrian couple who were sponsored by The Mahone Bay Community group, sat and waited for their ride home.  I chatted with Shahnaz about her family.  It didn't take many words to understand that she is worried sick about her parents who were left behind in Turkey.  Rezan and Shahnaz are Kurdish and the Kurds face discrimination by the Turkish government.

Because I had already had several conversations with some of the volunteers who sponsored Rezan, Shahnaz and their four year old son, Ali, I knew that the same group was already working to bring Shahnaz's family to Mahone Bay.  I assured Shahnaz that the community will do everything in its power to reunite her with her parents. It seemed that nothing stood in the way, but money and time.

On January 25th,  our federal government ended the public policy to allow community groups to sponsor Syrian and Iraqi refugees.  I hope the Liberal government will consider reinstating this policy.  The success of integrating refugee families into rural communities depends on keeping families together.  Refugees often leave small communities for larger urban centres out of a sense of isolation.

Although Rezan, with his wicked sense of humour, joked that he was in no rush to be reunited with his in laws, it is urgent that we make it possible for Shahnaz's parents to join them in Mahone Bay.  There is no greater support to any family, let alone a refugee family,  than grandparents.  

New immigrants enrich our community on so many levels.  They bring new skills,  new cultures and diversity.  Government sponsored refugees often fall through the cracks when their one year sponsorship has ended.  In small communities, those who have worked tirelessly to sponsor and support refugee families will not walk away when the one year period has ended.

I am hoping you will share this letter with your colleagues in Ottawa.  It's important to see the faces behind the policy.

Thanks so much,

Anna Shoub,

Lunenburg


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How to Exclude Young People From Council - Repeal Bylaw Number 4




In a small town council, the job of being a councilor should be possible for the average citizen.  The stipend that a small town councilor receives is not enough to live on. If meetings happen mid-day, you have excluded most people with jobs.

In Lunenburg, regular council meetings are on Tuesdays at 5:15.  There are also mandatory in-camera meetings, general government meetings and committee meetings that take place during regular working hours. 

All municipal councils have a bylaw that sets out the rules for how council meetings operate.  In Lunenburg, it is Bylaw 4.  This bylaw states that meeting times are to be held on Thursdays at 7:00.    Somewhere along the line, it was decided that the 7:00 meeting time was inconvenient, and the time was changed to 5:15, but there was an oversight and the council bylaw itself was not changed. Oops.

Council now wishes to repeal this bylaw and replace it with a new one.  Councilors Brian Davis and Joseph Caravale want the meeting times to be accessible to most residents and the other councilors are happy with the way things are.

The current meeting times are better for staff, who would otherwise need to hang around town for an additional hour and the times are better for the current councilors.  But not making the meeting times more accessible to citizens is short sighted.   In the last election we had 7 people running for 6 spots.  This is bad for democracy.  There are currently no young people on council.  The current council does not represent the diversity of ages, gender and professions in the town and this is not going to change unless council looks at the bigger picture.

The following comment  was left on my Facebook page:

"My father was town Councillor for 15 - 20 years (can't remember exactly) and they always had council meetings at 6 or 7, otherwise he would not have been able to be a Councillor. Also I was a student representative for council (I don't know if they have that now) and went to council meetings. With all my sports activities I would not have had that opportunity."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Do Home Based Businesses Compete with the Shops on Main St.



It seems that when the topic of home-based businesses comes to the forefront, it brings out a discussion as to whether or not home-based businesses create unfair competition with the shops located in commercial store fronts. I understand these concerns.  Let's talk about them.

1- It's not fair that shop owners need to pay commercial taxes while home based businesses pay only residential taxes.

This is not true in Nova Scotia.  All permitted home-based businesses pay commercial taxes for the portion of their house used for the business.  In some cases, they actually pay more per square foot than commercial businesses.  Home-based businesses cannot factor their income into their tax assessment and assessments cannot be compared to shops in the commercial district.  The assessment in a residential zone is based solely on the value of similar residential properties.

The only thing that might not be fair is that home-based businesses receive no extra services for the extra taxes they pay.  They don't benefit by having their streets plowed first or by being in close proximity to other shops where they can easily be found.

2-Why allow retail sales from home when there are empty storefronts to fill?

 It is generally not permitted to have a retail shop from a home, unless you live out in the country where there are no land use regulations and no commercial zone to compete with.

Hold on there, Hat Junkie!  Don't you have a retail shop from your home in Lunenburg?  Yes and No.  Land Use regulations usually prohibit retail shops, but often permit only the sale of goods made in the house.  What's the difference?  When things are made by hand, production is limited.  That means the amount of people that visit per day is also limited. If I had a constant stream of customers coming into my studio, I would very quickly run out of hats. Things made by artisans: hats, pottery, quilts, artwork, are niche markets.  They appeal to a small group of people and only draw a small group of people.  I have less than 50 customers per year in my studio.  There are just not that many lovers of big, nutty hats with giant flowers.  Most days, my only company is the radio and my dog. The good news is, that with the internet, people who love nutty floral hats will travel all the way to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia just to visit me. Great for tourism.

3- But still, even if you don't draw crowds,  why not just rent a shop?

The simple answer is that specialty businesses that  produce in small quantities and do not supplement by purchasing goods to resell cannot afford commercial rents.  Overhead needs to stay low in order to stay in business.

There are other answers as well.  Home-based business owners are often caring for children or elderly family members. These business owners need the flexibility of hours in order to juggle the demands of home and work.

Home-based businesses are also run by retirees and disabled people, who are often excluded from traditional work places because of a lack of accessibility.

Artisans often need to limit their on site customers.  If I was greeting customers all day, I would not have the time to make hats.  Working from home means it's a bit harder to find me.  Those that do find me are looking for me.  It works out perfectly.

4- Do home-based businesses draw people away from the commercial shops?

Not at all.  The opposite is true. Small specialty shops and services come with their own loyal following.  Anyone that drives across the province or country to visit a home-based business is pretty much guaranteed to spend a couple more hours in town patronizing other local businesses.

5- Home-based businesses cause extra traffic and noise and disturb the peace of a residential neighbourhood. Who wants to live next to a home-based business?

Take a deep breath.  Land Use bylaws are a beautiful thing.  They have been written by people that went to school to study these things and every regulation ensures that a residential zone stays peaceful. In most cases you would have no idea that you were living next to a home-based business.

Businesses cannot produce any more noise than ordinarily happens in a house.  You can use a machine that sounds like a vacuum cleaner, but you can't use a machine that sounds like a jack hammer.

You can't store anything related to the business outside of your house.

When signage is permitted, it usually needs to be small and appropriate.


Twenty five percent of the home  is generally what is permitted to be used for a business.  There is a maximum square footage specified in case you live in a mansion. So, we are talking about a small portion of the house.  The physical size of the business keeps the business itself small.  If the business grows past the size that is permitted then it has to move out of the house.   At that point the business needs to rent a store front. That's awesome, right?

Even the amount of employees are regulated.  In Lunenburg you can have two employees, but most home-based businesses have one or none.  My studio is 250 sq. feet.  If I had two people working with me in my studio, we would be tripping over each other.

If you have a small dog grooming shop, you won't fit three dogs at a time.  If it turns out there is too much noise, you would have to sound proof.  Excessive noise is prohibited.  Do you see what I mean?  All these concerns have already been addressed in land use bylaws.  We just need to understand the rationale behind the rules.  The rules are good.

6- OK, fine.  So, a home-based business doesn't compete with a commercial business. But we need to revive our main streets.  Shouldn't that be our first priority?

Actually, I think encouraging home-based businesses is a great way to revive the commercial district.
In rural Nova Scotia it is very difficult to keep a shop open on the main street.  One only needs to pay attention to the constant turn over of businesses to see that this is true.

The biggest obstacle to success is that when the tourists leave the, income leaves with them.  In order to change this reality, we need to fill our homes with as many full time residents as possible.  People can live in rural Nova Scotia when they can earn a living in rural Nova Scotia.  Good paying, full time jobs are scarce.  Self employment is often the only way to make a life in rural Nova Scotia possible.

Every family that can support themselves by running a home-based business is a family that can shop in the local bookstore, toy store, clothing shop and grocery store, when the tourists have gone home.   Every family that lives in town full time, brings family visitors who also support the local stores.

We all want the same outcome for our communities.  We want bustling, vibrant main streets.  Supporting home-based businesses is a great way to achieve this goal.






Tuesday, January 17, 2017

We Have The Utmost Respect for Our Ignorant Residents



At Yesterday's Council meeting, Lunenburg Councilor, Brian Davis, took issue with going in camera to discuss the actions of a councilor.  The Municipal government act specifies that personnel issues can be discussed behind closed doors.  Elected officials are not personnel.  At one point in the video, you will hear Mayor Bailey state that she always has the utmost respect for the residents. 

She expresses that respect, as only Mayor Bailey can, with the following quote in this article  in Lighthouse Now.

"If you're doing something right, I don't know how you can do it right-er," she said. "We will continue to conduct the business as we have been conducting it because we've been doing it correctly. I don't know how you convince people that are ignorant to the facts that that is the case, but that is the reality."

Among the ignorant residents in the gallery was a respected lawyer, a former CAO for the town of Lunenburg who has written international policy and a man who builds submarines for a hobby.

It really is difficult to take in new perspectives with a firmly shut mind, surrounded by only those that will tell you what you wish to hear.

Welcome to Lunenburg Council.  Enjoy the show.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

How Lunenburg Administration Hurts Good People.


This is the story of two good people and a horrible case of obstructionism  at Lunenburg Town Hall.

Jenn and Chris are a young couple that live in Halifax.  Jenn runs her own dog grooming shop.  They fell in love with Lunenburg and decided it was the perfect place to start a family.  Their plan was to downsize Jenn's business and work from home. 

They contacted  Town Hall in February of 2016 to find out if it would be possible to operate a dog grooming shop from their home.  The town confirmed that they could. They were told dog grooming is considered a personal service and personal services are permitted.  With this assurance they put their house up for sale and gave notice to their commercial Landlord.


After months of house hunting they phoned the town again and  were told that dog grooming is not a personal service because the service is to the dog and not the human.  Jenn was flabbergasted.  She explained that the dog does not bring itself.  The dog belongs to the human.  The dog does not wish to be groomed.  The service is to the person.  We put our house on the market! Why weren't we ever informed that the town changed their mind?

The response - Sorry.  You can apply to amend the bylaw.  The fee is $1000.


Last Tuesday, Jenn plead her case to Lunenburg Council.  She asked that they please reconsider the definition.  She said that if it was absolutely necessary to go through a four month bylaw amendment that she would, but that it's truly ludicrous to have to do this and she would be unable to earn a living for four months.

At Tuesday's council meeting, the town said they did not recall ever telling Jenn that her business was permitted.

This is an e-mail from the town to Jenn's husband, Chris, dated February 8, 2016.  

Hello Chris.



I was speaking with Jen last week regarding our general requirements for business uses permitted in residential zones. A dog grooming business is permitted as a business use in a residence (home based business) or in an accessory building. I have attached the requirements as set out in Part 3.1 of the Land Use By-law. The home would have to be your primary residence. You would not be permitted to have kennels outside or have the dogs stay overnight. Jen had related that she would prefer to convert a detached garage for her business.  It looks like the garage is roughly 120 ftĂ‚², which is well below the maximum allowable area.  We have one application form that covers the development, heritage and building permit.  There are no fees for development permits and heritage permits.



The property is located within the Heritage Conservation District. Changes to the exterior (cladding, windows, doors, additions, signage etc) of the home or garage will require a heritage permit. For quick reference, see page 19 of the pdf of the Construction & Renovation Project Information Guide  



Jen and I had discussed bringing an accessory building such as a detached garage up to building code standards, especially the requirement for having a washroom available.  I had checked with Keith Fraser, our Building Inspector, regarding an exemptions for small sized buildings.  There are no exemptions.  It turns out that mobile small vendors do not have the same washroom requirements as small home based business because the mobile ones (e.g. carts) are regulated under the Motor Vehicle Act.  Jen has likely spoken to Keith as he was going to call her regarding her question on exemptions.



In short, the dog grooming business is a permitted use in a converted garage in the OTR Zone. You would need permits  - a development permit for the use, very likely a heritage permit for exterior changes and/or signage, and a building permit for changes to bring it up to meet code.



I hope that this helps. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.



Regards,



Dawn




This experience is not just red tape.  This is pure obstructionism. Two people have been put through a crazy amount of stress and when they tell their story the town denies it  happened.

I thing an investigation is in order. 









An In Camera Spanking

This Public council meeting, scheduled for Monday, January 16th  at 4:00 p.m is not an in camera meeting.  This is a public meeting where the second item on the agenda is to not hold the meeting in public. (You can't make this stuff up.)

4:00 is a difficult time to attend.  I wonder why our CAO chose that time?  Well, hard to say, but this is still a public meeting.

Now, I grant you, this meeting will probably be a bit like staring at a blank movie screen, but it's still important that as many people as possible attend.  Here's why:  Brian Davis stirred the pot last Tuesday evening by daring to question the legality of what had previously been discussed in camera.  This action has stirred up quite a lot of discussion as to what should or should not be discussed behind closed doors.    

Perhaps the mayor is planning  to thank Mr. Davis for his efforts to create a culture of transparency in the Town of Lunenburg.  Or.... it is also possible that there will be some effort made to ensure that Councillor Davis never steps out of line again.

The words, "potential litigation" do not conjure up images of roses in the spring time.   I could be mistaken.  Maybe the town has a hankering for suing someone else, but if there is any effort made to silence the one person who is daring to ask tough questions then I think the citizens of Lunenburg need to be there to support him when the recommendations are made at the end of the meeting.

So, bring your knitting, bring a book, but most importantly bring yourselves.  We elected Brian Davis to work on our behalf and he is going above and beyond.  Please come and support him.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Lunenburg's Secret Council Meetings


You might have heard that we had a doozy of a council meeting last night, here in Lunenburg. And you might be hearing the words, "in camera meeting" being tossed around and wondering what the heck a council meeting has to to do with a Nikon Coolpix.  To be honest, I have no idea why it is called an in camera meeting, but I do know that it means the meeting is not open and accessible to the public, like other council meetings.  The public does not get to hear what is being discussed and only learns of the decisions made by digging through the council meeting minutes on the town web site.  Most people don't do this.....But I'm not most people.

One of our new councilors, Brian Davis, has had some serious concerns that the Town of Lunenburg was in violation of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) which is very specific for what can be discussed in secret.

Let me tell you a bit about Brian, he is the most gosh golly, good natured, feller you'll ever meet.  He speaks very slowly and is wont to stop mid phrase to give you a hug.  He kind of reminds me of Jim Nabors.   But don't let his mannerisms fool you.  He is very smart, very principled and he will relentlessly fight for what is right.  He is progressive and welcoming. In short, Lunenburg is lucky to have him.

Here are the minutes, describing the in camera meeting that caused Brian to be concerned.


Brian is right to be concerned.  I am concerned. Here's why...

1-  It was decided, in camera, to forgive The Lunenburg Academy of Music (LAMP) their rent from May- November, 2016.  O.K.  Let's talk about that.
I love having LAMP occupy the third floor of the Lunenburg Academy.  They enhance the town and I wish them every success in the world, but there are approximately 700 households in the Town of Lunenburg that are footing the bill for a very expensive repurposing of the former school.  If the town is forgiving LAMP their rent, it means that they are asking the tax payers of Lunenburg to foot the bill instead.  If I had had the opportunity to hear the rational behind this decision I might be happy to be a part of this charitable donation, but I prefer to have a say in how my money is being spent. Perhaps the town can claim that this is a negotiation regarding a lease and therefore is acceptable to discuss in private,  but why would they do that?

One of the reasons that the province allows in camera meetings is because a municipality might be negotiating with different parties and you wouldn't want to show your hand to the other parties.  In this case, there is no other party.  It's LAMP and the the town (us), so why be secretive?  If the town respects its citizens they should let us witness the debate, not treat us like it's none of our business.

2- LAMP nominated the town for the NS Community Arts and Culture Award.  The nature of this award is to then give the money back to the nominator (LAMP).  They did not do that.  They put it directly in the town coffers.  O.K.  they kept the money to offset the rent, but this is fabulously non-transparent.  How much was the rent?  What are the tax payers of Lunenburg donating to LAMP on top of what we are paying to repurpose the Academy.  Enquiring minds want to know.  Again, I love LAMP, but I also love transparency.  The two should not be mutually exclusive.

3- Brian Davis expressed his concern that the MGA expressly forbids any decision to be made in an in camera meeting.  Council can make a recommendation to staff or legal council, but the recommendation has to come forward in an open meeting.  They cannot vote in camera.  The town solicitor explained that the vote that happens in camera isn't actually a vote.  The vote has no teeth....  Here's where I start banging my head.  The minutes state, MOTION CARRIED.  Yes, everything can be twisted to mean anything if we pay lawyers thousand of dollars to do the twisting, but the MGA should be reasonably understandable to a citizen.    Most people read, motion carried, to mean, motion carried.  A decision was made. Once the issue reaches the open meeting, the public hears nothing about how the decision was reached or even what council was talking about.  The mayor asks for a councilor to approve the minutes from the in camera meeting and another councilor seconds the motion.  End of the story.  The public is left in the dark.

I guess even Mayor Bailey felt the final decision was made in camera because she spoke about the arrangement with LAMP to Lighthouse Now, well before the minutes were approved.


4- At yesterday's council meeting, Brian requested that the minutes be read aloud.  His motion was defeated 5-2.  Why?  If Lunenburg is so transparent, why deny his request?  To what end?  The minutes are public if you look for them, so what's the big deal?  It was the simplest of asks and it was overwhelmingly shot down.  If council has nothing to hide, why work so hard to hide it?

 See, we can debate what is allowed to happen in camera until the cows come home, but If council  respects the people they serve  then they will go to every length possible to keep all discussion out of private meetings, not find the legal loop hole to do the opposite.

What next?  Well, I heard Mayor Bailey on CBC this morning talking about bringing in a municipal lawyer to work with council.  That can't be cheap.  I hear that the Department of Municipal Affairs will do the same job for free, but the mayor needs to request it. Why not get the information we need to understand that everything is on the up and up, straight from the horse's mouth?  I really don't have money to throw around...and that is our money you are throwing around.