Any 'process' that effectively prevents property owners from investing in improving their property and using it for purposes that actually improve their neighbourhood is a failure that needs to be discarded.
By Ryan McGreal
Published September 21, 2010
By now you've probably heard that Barbara Milne and Gary Santucci are giving up on their struggle to build a thriving theatre and arts centre in an economically depressed part of town.
Just to clarify: their struggle wasn't with a lacklustre market for their diverse, creative output; it was with a city bureaucracy that continues to harrass, threaten and charge them with bylaw violations for operating the Pearl Company on a former industrial property now zoned for residential use.
Milne and Santucci knew the building on 16 Steven St., at King St. just a couple of blocks east of Victoria Ave., wasn't zoned for public shows, but they believed that the theatre would qualify as an allowable non-conforming use when they bought it.
The City charged them in 2009 with "permit[ting] an unlawful use of the premises; namely, live performance theatre and art gallery offering works for sale to the public, which uses contravene Section 10(1) of City of Hamilton By-Law 6593".
Ghastly, I know.
The cost to jump through all the permitting and rezoning hoops could run well into the tens of thousands of dollars, including zoning application fees, change of use/zoning fees, development charges, site plan applications, cash-in-lieu-of-parklands fees, and parking requirements.
While that charge still moves through the courts, the City has issued a new charge in response to a more recent theatre performance. One must wonder whether the City will be as intrepid about leveling charges against the crack dealers who will likely re-occupy the building once the Pearl Company closes shop.
Last year, the Pearl's fate hung in the balance while the City's Official Plan moved slowly toward final approval. Council didn't accept Santucci's proposed amendment that would allow artists to undertake adaptive reuse of old buildings.
While more progressive cities recognize the value of the arts in revitalizing older urban neighbourhoods, and while Hamilton pays lip service to this recognition, the reality is that we continue to throw roadblocks in the path of intrepid arts entrepreneurs who are willing to take the plunge into areas the city itself has abandoned.
Ward Councillor Bernie Morelli can hide behind "process" all he wants; but any "process" that effectively prevents property owners from investing in improving their property and using it for purposes that actually improve their neighbourhood is a failure that needs to be discarded.
It's long past time for Hamilton to abandon the strictures of 20th century single-use zoning and move to a form-based and performances-based code that allows any use that does not produce negative side effects (e.g. excessive noise, foul odours, pollution).
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