Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Red tape on the menu

City permits, variances stall Point Douglas coffee shop

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City hall says it has reduced red tape for new business, but you won't persuade Christine Shuwera of that.

The Point Douglas resident is trying to convert a portion of a building that has been vacant for close to 20 years into that neighbourhood's only alcohol-free coffee shop.

But since acquiring a lease on the 900-square-foot space late last year, Shuwera has been forced to commission a series of professional reports just to get an occupancy permit.

Not only that, but the city says a vacant lot that she has access to next door -- covered with gravel and featuring a cement approach off Sutherland -- is "green space" and therefore she can't use it as a parking lot.

She needed to spend another $700 to obtain a zoning variance to allow her customers to park on the street in front of her shop.

The location where Shuwera hopes to eventually open Willow's Coffee Shop is right behind the burnt-out Able Warehouse the Imrie family was recently told would have to come down.

The Imries had hoped to convert that building shell into a mixed use condominium/retail-office complex, but because that usage did not conform to the Plan Winnipeg designation, they are being forced to demolish it.

"I don't understand why this is happening," Shuwera said. "This (her coffee shop) is something that will be really positive for the area. People asked me why I would move to the neighbourhood. But I said it is getting better and it really has improved over the past three years and this coffee shop will also help."

Crime has come down by some accounts as much as 70 per cent in the area, but Shuwera and others say it still needs amenities like a coffee shop establishment that is not part of a bar.

Mike Pagtakhan, councillor for the ward immediately south of Sutherland Avenue, agrees.

"I was talking with a tow-truck driver recently and I suggested we go for coffee, but he said there was nowhere in the area to go," said Pagtakhan, who suggested the city should be especially encouraging grassroots business people like Shuwera.

The owner of the 7,000-square-foot, two-storey building, who asked that his name not be used, said he thought Shuwera was being forced to jump through hoops unnecessarily.

"This is an old building, but it is solid," he said.

The building has been used for a number of things over the years, including a cannery and a grocery store. There are residential apartments on the second floor, but the first floor has not been occupied for about 17 years.

But according to the city's permit department, the important element is that a change of use is being contemplated for the building.

Julian Saj, the city's plan examination administrator, said an architect's report is required to determine what upgrading is necessary to establish the new use and how it will be completed.

"We do not have a choice," Saj said. "When you change from one (building use) classification to another, the code kicks in."

Among other things, the report needs to address issues like exiting, fire separation and whether the space requires a sprinkler system. Saj said the code does not allow for special considerations when it come to location just relative to the size.

For instance, he said, a coffee shop is classified as an assembly occupancy but it does not require the same facilities as an arena, which has the same classification.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 6, 2008 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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