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!
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