A Sidney dog groomer is “on top of the moon” after councillors meeting as a committee-of-the-whole Monday voted to change the Official Community Plan and rezone the location of her business, which has been operating illegally in space zoned for industrial use.
But not everybody is happy with the decision.
“I wasn’t expecting (it) to go that way and it’s a huge relief,” said Kathy Banks, owner-operator of Pooch Parlour in an interview with Black Press Media. Having operated in Sidney almost eight years, she sub-leased space in the industrial-zoned 2000-block of Malaview Avenue in early January 2022 after five years leasing a commercially zoned space on Fifth Street.
Had council not voted to approve the change, Banks doubts she could have ever reopened her business, which was forced to close by the town in early March and remains so at this location, until all administrative changes and inspections are completed.
“I have been looking for spaces,” she said. “It has been a nightmare and I’m so happy that they are going to allow to me stay there. I have nowhere else to go.”
Banks told councillors Monday that she moved to the Malaview location to avoid a rent increase of more than 50 per cent. The current location also offers superior space for dog grooming and client parking, she added.
Sidney staff became aware of Banks’ non-compliance after she applied to renew her business license in January, with her new address. Staff told her they could not do so because the proposed use – personal services – did not comply with the location’s M1 industrial zoning, and proceeded to shut her business down.
“Confirming that a business use is permitted by zoning in a given location is the responsibility of the business owner or landlord, and for obvious reasons must be done before any lease or rental agreements are entered into,” staff wrote in a February letter to Banks as found in a report to council.
Banks has acknowledged that the mistake was hers.
“I take full responsibility,” she said. “I know I should have looked into it, but there is actually a pet groomer right behind me with a grooming license. So it didn’t even cross my mind that I wouldn’t be allowed to operate there.”
Staff told councillors Monday the municipality had grandfathered that business, in explaining its presence in Sidney’s industrial area.
Several councillors showed sympathy for Banks, calling her mistake honest. But council struggled to reconcile this sympathy with the larger principle of upholding Sidney’s zoning bylaws, after staff recommended denial of Banks’ application for an OCP and zoning amendment.
Allowing higher-end commercial uses in industrial zones with lower rents would over time encourage businesses to leave commercially-zoned areas for industrial-zone areas, staff said, thereby reducing the already-low level of industrial space in Sidney.
Couns. Barbara Fallot and Couns. Terri O’Keeffe agreed with this argument, in voting against the motion, while supporters Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith and Couns. Sara Duncan, Scott Garnett, Chad Rintoul and Peter Wainwright helped the motion pass 5-2.
O’Keeffe argued that council appears willing to go through “contortions” to change an entire zoning to accommodate one business, predicting the move would bring opposition from the business community.
“I really don’t see anything to support this.”
Rintoul disagreed, saying it actually sends a positive signal about Sidney’s flexibility in helping business. This case, he added, goes beyond one business as other businesses are also struggling with high rents in the downtown core.
McNeil-Smith also disagreed with O’Keeffe. “It’s not opening it to any personal business,” he said, “it’s opening it to personal service businesses as described within this use. So you wouldn’t have personal businesses like a dental clinic or a massage therapist or other personal type uses. It would be very limited to these uses.”
When asked about concerns from staff, Banks said she is not taking up much space.
“They are saying that I’m taking away from industrial use, but we are using a 400-square-foot room and we are not building anything. I understand that there are bylaws in place, but with pet grooming, it is tricky to find a place that works with other businesses as well. It’s loud and messy. So I’m really happy that they kind of saw that and let me go over to the industrial area.”
It is not clear yet when the business will operate again.
Sidney’s chief administrative officer Randy Humble said it will take at least two months for the OCP amendment and rezoning to be completed, if it continues to be supported.
Assuming adoption of the amendments following a public hearing, the business would then be required to apply for an update to their business licence, a process which includes fire and safety inspections, before being able to operate legally, he said.
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