Commentary

Unnecessary Parking Requirements Hurt Small Business Development

A new cafe had to remove its tables and chairs before opening because the City determined it did not have enough parking.

By Jessica Ramsay
Published May 07, 2014

I love coffee, every part of it, and I have known for years that coffee is what I want to do in my life. I also love Hamilton: there's a rich history, beautiful green space and an unparalleled community that makes a city feel like a small town. It only made sense to combine the two things that I love by opening up my café, Finch Espresso Bar at 601 Upper James Street, in Hamilton.

It was in the fall of 2013 that I turned dreaming into planning, starting with securing a location, registering the business, getting the necessary funding and everything else that goes along with a new business venture.

I spent hours researching on the City of Hamilton's website to obtain all of the information I needed to be 100 percent compliant with bylaws and processes.

The city's advice, time and time again, was to visit the Small Business Enterprise Centre. However, I was still working full-time in Grimsby. My work day started before and ended after their office hours and it was nearly impossible to reach the Centre by telephone.

Regardless, I pushed forward and was ready to open on schedule - until I received was an order to comply from the City posted on my door on January 30, two days before I was going to open.

The process for a building permit is lengthy and expensive, but with help I got all of the drawings completed and submitted. The processing period is 20 business days, and City staff advised me that a more accurate estimate could not be given.

When the 20 days were coming to a close, a drawing of the parking lot was requested of me. I submitted it and was advised that the lot does not meet the requirements for a restaurant in "Zone H", so I therefore do not have the necessary parking spaces available to have seats.

The parking lot for the quaint little plaza that the café is in doesn't have a loading zone. That is not to be confused with a space where you can load and unload in - the space needs to be designated and have enough space that forward maneuverability is always possible.

As well, some of the parking spaces do not have the necessary six meters of maneuvering room behind them. One of the entrances is less than 30 meters from the closest residential area and there is no landscaped area along Brucedale Avenue.

Meanwhile, there is a Green P parking lot on the other side of Upper James Street, meter parking along Brucedale Avenue and free parking along Brantdale Avenue.

To be able to proceed, I was advised that I needed a minor variance to address the parking and once that was completed the building permit could be issued.

It wasn't until I was finally able to get in touch with Scott Baldry, the coordinator of Business Facilitation, that I received any good news. He advised that if I remove all seating from my permit application, I would be able to open and apply for the variance while I'm open. Less than a week after our conversation we opened our doors in early April and I was serving to the public.

I have finally gotten the signatures I need to submit the variance. It should be in by the end of the week and I have been advised it takes an average of 60 days to process.

The café is located in a very walkable neighbourhood north of Fennell - one of the few along Upper James Street. Since I opened a month ago, I have not received a single complaint about parking or access to the café.

On the other hand, I have received complaints and comments about having nowhere to sit and enjoy a drink from almost every single person who has come through the shop.

The importance that the City has placed on parking is unfounded. It is only hurting small businesses. I know that Finch Espresso Bar is not the only business that has struggled with this type of hurdle and most likely won't be the last but a change is necessary.

While speaking with a customer who is also a small business owner, they commented that it seems as though small businesses in Hamilton operate in spite of the city rather than alongside it.

I can't say that I disagree when there is such a large focus on small details that create so many problems for small business. Each business is contributing to the economic growth and revitalization of the city, but tough luck if there isn't a tree by the road!

Jessica Ramsay is the owner of Finch Espresso Bar and a die-hard idealist. She first came to Hamilton to study Theology at Redeemer University College but left before finishing her program to study accounting at Mohawk College. Before opening the cafe, she worked as a corporate accounting specialist in Grimsby but the coffee calling was much stronger.

23 Comments

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 14:08:04

Jessica, I am very sorry to hear about what you had to go through. You are doing a great thing for the city and least deserve to be bullied over such a minor issue. You are correct that small business here must exist in spite of the City that is supposed to be helping them.

Thankfully you persevered and navigated around the many obstacles, but how many others have given up? Dealing with the city is like waking up every day in a Kafka novel. Nothing makes sense, nothing is explained to you and one day, it's just all over.

It occurred to me that the city is in the process of new zoning for the Upper James area. They are doing this in conjunction with the A-line rapid transit and these changes will likely include reduced parking requirements. Because of that, you might be able to get a temporary occupancy permit which will tide you over until the zoning changes take place. I know someone who faced the same issue as you and was able to do this downtown. It's worth a shot.

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 14:13:41

One more thing, please contact your councillor if you haven't already, and be persistent. He can probably get the process for the variance sped up so you're not waiting another 2 months.

What I've found out is that contrary to popular belief, City employees can do work and relatively quick, but they must receive the right directive from the right individual.

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By carrie (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 15:03:21

I can understand your frustration but on the other hand as a business owner, home owner and landlord of several homes< i do not feel the city is strict enough with parking requirements for new comercial and residential in the city

a restaurant opened beside my business. we all knew(area residents and other businesses) the restaurant did not have adequate parking

Sure enough the restaurant customers were soon parking in our spots. Then the city gave them a patio permit which further reduced the restaurant parking spots and their customers imposed further on the surrounding residents and businesses by taking more of our spots

Its great to say, there is a lot nearby or customers can street park but human nature is such that people want to park as close as possible to the door they want to enter. And almost no one wants to pay to park if they can avoid it

Think of my frustration of paying taxes for 25 years and having the city loosely giving business permits without adequate parking so now my customers have no spots to park

The city has allowed developers to build condos with ".8" thats point eight parking spots per unit. Where is the other ".2" part of the car supposed to park-obviously in business or residental spots that are already at a premium

if you look at parking in any city from either point of view its a hassle that isnt easily solved

in a utopian world we would have lovely weather and everyone would walk or take public transit and never have to think about parking spots

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By Steve (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 15:22:40 in reply to Comment 101109

And get the Councillor on board, so they'll support your application at the COA. Ask for the support and a letter of that support.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 15:26:16 in reply to Comment 101112

Post signs in "your spots" and engage parking enforcement to ticket when people who aren't supposed to park in "your spots" park there.

Likewise, neighbouring residential streets can switch to permit parking. Sure there's a cost, but then they get parking for permit holders.

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By Hamilton1 (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 15:51:26 in reply to Comment 101112

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 16:11:31 in reply to Comment 101112

simple enforcement of permit spots or specific spots for your business is all that is needed. To mandate parking lots and gobs of parking be the way we continue building Hamilton isn't the solution.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted May 07, 2014 at 17:00:20 in reply to Comment 101112

If people are parking on your property, bylaw will ticket and/or remove the cars, you just have to have the appropriate signage that cites the bylaw.

The problem with a blanket parking requirement bylaw is that it results in seas of unnecessary spaces that are empty many hours of the day and not contributing to the tax base.

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By Matt (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 19:20:07

the city needs to HELP the small business by being diligent with by-law and parking enforcement.
I know in St. Catharines you can't walk anywhere without seeing these little guys walking around and posting tickets on violators. As annoying as they are, they're getting their job done, and generating $30-$60 tickets for the city which over time does add up.

The city needs to step in and due diligence.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted May 07, 2014 at 23:12:19

Jessica,

Please let me know if you would like me to write a letter or speak at a COA meeting.

Mandating provision of car parking creates a serious induced demand issue. In other words, car parking encourages car drivers to use their cars. And every time a car is used, this results in a lethal cancer poison attack being launched against the citizens of Hamilton.

I've got a 42 cm scar on my right side due to major surgery because I was poisoned by car drivers. That is something that nobody should have.

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By My case (anonymous) | Posted May 09, 2014 at 10:47:07

I own a small commercial business with a small simple building and employ 20-22 people depending upon the timing. We have very low customer traffic. We emit no fumes and make no noise.

I pay $22,000.00 in tax on about a $700,000.00 assessment give or take. (I paid half that for the building but don't get me started on that.) I think if it was a residential property the taxes would be between 7 and 8 thousand dollars.

After I bought the building the neighbors, without my knowledge, complained to the city about "their" street. Their complaint had nothing to do with me or my building. The issues pre-date my purchase of the building. It related to an increase in borders and renters who drive cars and the shortage of street parking. (I have separate off-street parking for my staff.) About 60% of the residents are in publicly subsidized houses. The City acquiesced to their demands and changed the parking to permit only.

When the signs went up. I was surprised but went to get a permit. I was told I was not advised of the potential change as technically my building was not part of the area covered by the change due to the specific location of my building. They then told me that because I own a commercial building I do not qualify for a permit.

I have a parking spot on my land that I pay taxes for, but often the "borders" and such use it leaving me to park temporarily on the street while I call the city to ticket the person in my spot. Also there are other times when I just need to park on the street. Accordingly I have received a multitude of parking tickets. I suspect some of the people living on the street call the enforcement officers routinely, maybe because they have nothing better to do, maybe because they want to ensure the law is strictly enforced, maybe because they are just very unhappy people - who knows.

I must tell you that I feel like a second class citizen in this situation. It is frustrating and it appears that the by-laws prevent me from doing anything about it. These types of situations are not very conducive to business.

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By Teflon (anonymous) | Posted May 09, 2014 at 13:47:39

Welcome to Hamilton, where the city has their heads up their you know what and actively derails many businesses.

Something needs to change to promote growth and to NOT stifle it. Now we have a Bus lane downtown, most people are avoiding the downtown center like the plague, was this the intended result you were looking for ? Its not like the Hamilton police are going to enforce the bus lane. So whats the point.. they are too busy screwing up and getting a paid leave of absence for it.

Way to go Hamilton officials, if your job is to suppress stifle and scare local businesses, you're doing a great job!

And a high five to any of the new restaurants opening up in spite of the ridiculousness that is Hamilton.

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By Connie (registered) | Posted May 09, 2014 at 14:11:28 in reply to Comment 101117

Oh good! Finally! ;)

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By Connie (registered) | Posted May 09, 2014 at 14:20:31

Same problem with new cafes on James N: Two city lots + street parking, most people walking or biking ... and the same rules apply for parking spots.

Ridiculous.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted May 09, 2014 at 15:01:37 in reply to Comment 101190

Now we have a Bus lane downtown, most people are avoiding the downtown center like the plague

What do you base that on? It looks very busy along King, just like always.

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By mel (registered) | Posted May 09, 2014 at 16:09:32

folding chairs? BYOC (bring your own chair) for a coffee break? :)

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By misterque (registered) - website | Posted May 09, 2014 at 16:14:22

I have lived through 1) at least 5 variances 2) a rezoning 3) an official plan amendment. I will not bore you with my tales of woe and sorrow. I am still living one at this very moment. We are on year 2 of a 'minor' variance. So instead of reviewing a million individual cases and trying to change thousands of antiquated laws the city could change the culture of Planning and Building by putting the fees in escrow (or something) until the project goes through. If the project dies then the city only sees a small fraction of the money it would get if the project had gone through. What is happening now is that planning collects its fees regardless of outcome. They have no incentive to expedite or compromise because every time they send someone back to the drawing board they collect more fees. This way a restauranteur who suddenly realizes that all her capital for restaurant development has been eaten by planning fees can bail. Obviously this would require checks and balances. However that is the basic theory.

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By Joshua (registered) | Posted May 10, 2014 at 23:03:42

Jessica, My wife, daughters, and I deeply enjoyed your espresso bar and warm hospitality. We were the ones in this past Tuesday afternoon whose daughter was dancing and asking about the table that was to be built near the entrance. Again, many thanks.

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By StayOnTheMountain (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2014 at 14:29:09 in reply to Comment 101204

It only looks busy because 1-2 lanes are taken out with the useless bus lane.

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By Hello (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2014 at 14:32:03

Hi, I will stop in for a beverage the next time I am at the Walmart plaza at Upper James and Fennel. Sorry to hear about the hell that is is dealing with the city. I hope it works out to your favour.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted May 12, 2014 at 12:15:57 in reply to Comment 101251

It only looks busy because 1-2 lanes are taken out

I wasn't talking about the traffic, I was talking about the street view (you know, not from behind a windshield). The sidewalks are full of people going in and out of stores, and Jackson Square, buses are packed. This didn't change suddenly one way or the other, because of the bus lane. Some shortcutters through downtown have probably switched to other routes. That was the idea.

StayOnTheMountain

You're absolutely free to hate the bus lane, nothing wrong with that, just say so! But why pretend that nobody goes downtown anymore because of it, and then, in a veiled manner tell someone that does, to go away?

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By StayOnTheMountain (anonymous) | Posted May 13, 2014 at 19:51:50 in reply to Comment 101263

I don't say that nobody goes downtown any more. Please advise where I did that.

I'm saying that you think it looks busy, I'm telling you why it looks busy.

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By mountainguy (anonymous) | Posted May 15, 2014 at 22:59:38

Your just a block or so from me. Ill stop in sometime. Theres also a new 6 story mixed use apt building going up in our neighborhood. upper james area around Fennell I noticed is booming with new construction lately. Things are looking up

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