This Burnaby cafe's struggle to add chairs shows the system is ridiculous

Chris Campbell

“Small business are the engine of our economy!”

Ever heard that one before? Ever heard that from a municipal politician?

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I have. Many times and I always laugh when I hear civic politicians talk about how much they value small businesses.

I don’t always buy it because so many cities make it so hard – and expensive - for small businesses to operate.

I understand that cities need standards for things like safety. Bylaws and regulations are there to ensure those standards are met. But there are so many arcane regulations out there that just seem to punish businesses with little benefit to the public. And it’s not just the regulations, but the lack of exceptions for obvious circumstances and the long, dragged-out timeframe it takes to rectify situations.

I’ve been thinking about this after reading the NOW story about the JJ Bean location in a South Bend industrial park on North Fraser Way that serves coffee and baked goods, but isn’t allow to offer customers tables and chairs due to Burnaby zoning rules.

The outlet is connected to the company’s near 15,000-square-foot warehouse.

“JJ Bean CEO John Neate told the NOW in March he was surprised to learn the site’s comprehensive development zoning allowed retail sales of food items but not seats,” read our story. “Adding chairs and tables would define the store as a café or restaurant, he learned.”

Yeah, well, so what? Is the placement of tables and chairs going to put somebody’s life in danger? Is this really such a big deal?

“The City of Burnaby’s Grant Taylor told Neate in an email that the city had studied the area and determined it didn’t need a new café,” read our story. “The current land-use rules in Big Bend are in place ‘to ensure that the proposed restaurant is not of a broad orientation, would draw customers from outside the industrial area, and is not in close proximity to any existing restaurants/cafés already established in a given area,’ Taylor wrote.” 

Well, we wouldn’t want any “broad orientation” restaurants destroying the fabric of our community, would we?

You just can’t make this up.

Instead of there being a quick mechanism for clearing up such minor alterations, like a few tables and chairs, Neate has now had to put together a rezoning request that will include a public hearing.

This situation has been dragging on for months.

I'm sure cities feel like they are just doing their jobs, but there are so many examples of red tape that put roadblocks in the way of businesses.

If we really want to support businesses, cities need to find ways to streamline certain minor situations and leave the big rezonings and hearings to projects that need them.


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