2015-12-23

Town asks for provincial direction on home-based business

by Emma Smith

  • <p>EMMA SMITH PHOTO</p><p>Mayor Rachel Bailey, along with town staff, made a presentation to the N.S. Building Advisory Committee in November.</p>

The Town of Lunenburg is awaiting provincial direction in dealing with home-based businesses after making a presentation to the N.S. Building Advisory Committee (BAC) last month.

But Mayor Rachel Bailey isn't convinced they'll get it any time soon.

"I think it'll be some time," said Bailey in an interview last week. "But I think we've laid some very good groundwork by going through this and I think they will take it seriously, and hopefully it will result in very positive changes."

On November 12, Bailey, along with the town's development officer and building inspector, stood before a committee in Halifax. It's the same group that local hat maker Anna Shoub addressed in September.

"I just thought that it was very important that we demonstrated that we were not the villain in this scenario, that we wanted to work for the betterment of the community," said Bailey.

The town is asking the province to clarify whether or not a home's "occupancy" changes when someone sets up a business in it. They've also asked for a definition of home-based businesses to be included in the building code, and for an outline of the relationship between a municipal land use by-law and the Provincial Building Code Act.

These are all issues at the heart of a divisive debate that's waged publicly ever since a meeting in May when Shoub and other business owners voiced their concerns.

Earlier this year, Shoub was told by the town's building inspector that she'd need costly upgrades to her Old Town studio to comply with building code regulations.

The town and its building inspector have said the rules are laid out, and their hands are tied. Still, Bailey says the town is willing to change if its gets the go-ahead from the province.

"We are asking them to let us know if they believe we've done something wrong because we need to know that," she said. "We need to change practice or they need to tell us or point to us how or why we should be doing things differently."

But Shoub doesn't think the town needs to wait for a response from the province.

"Lunenburg keeps saying their hands are tied," said Shoub. "But their hands are not tied. Nobody is standing in their way from simply leading and reaching out to Halifax [HRM] saying, can you help us understand this?"

In an email, a spokesperson for the Department of Municipal Affairs said the BAC is "consulting with the two parties and other stakeholders, including other municipalities across the province."

The committee has formed a working group that will eventually send any recommended changes to Minister Zach Churchill.

"There is no set timeline, but we anticipate the committee will be able to complete its review by spring," stated the email.

If recommendations are approved by the minster, there's still the lengthy process of actually changing regulations, which includes notice in the media and more consultation.

In its presentation, Lunenburg also asked for an amendment to the Nova Scotia Building Act to allow a municipal unit to make an appeal. Bailey said from the beginning, the town has wanted clarity from the province.

It reached out to former Minister of Muncipal Affairs Mark Furey in the spring, and the request was sent to the provincial Fire Marshall.

"The most unfortunate thing about this whole issue coming to light is that we seem to have been pitted against members of our community," said Bailey. "When we tried to explain why we were following the course of action that we did, it wasn't to draw a line in the sand. It wasn't to create an us against them."

Looking back, Bailey admits the town "perhaps didn't tell our story well enough" but "simply tried to go about our business" in addressing parking and setting up a Live/Work task force.

"I guess, sometimes we don't always communicate the right information at the right time," she said. "So misunderstandings and personalities get in the way, and it erupts into something that is unpleasant and unproductive."

After seven months of heated town meetings, Bailey hopes, with 2016 on the horizon, "the unpleasantness is coming to an end."

Shoub has hopes for the new year too. She wants to see the conflict, which she argues has always been there, to continue to be addressed, even if it's uncomfortable.

"I feel like there's been pressure to not ever say anything negative about Lunenburg," she said. "As long as there's this pressure to keep everything positive and not discuss the issues, then I think we can never grow as a community."

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