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Lumberjack Brewing permit approved, after testy council debate

Grand Forks City Council, developer trade barbs over parking concerns
Council met again to debate parking fees attached to the permit to turn the now-vacant building at 125B Market Ave. into Lumberjack Brewing. Photo: Karen McKinley

Lumberjack Brewing’s development permit without having to pay for parking spaces is going ahead, but the approval comes after a heated council meeting.

City council met on Aug. 28 for a special meeting to discuss the permit and a variance that would’ve required the developers pay $1,000 for each of the 25 spaces in the development plans.

At the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Everett Baker expressed his disapproval of the parking variances, pointing out he believed they discourage investment in the downtown.

“We’ve spent $40 million to make the downtown accessible and appealing to businesses and the public,” he said. “No disrespect to bylaws, but the part of Market Avenue where this is going is neglected. If we put people and lights in that area, it will discourage people up to no good.”

He added claims that there isn’t enough parking downtown are incorrect, presenting a video made by city staff of Market Avenue when the Grand Forks Brewing Co., The Bar and Kitchen and Gem Theatre were all open, with the theatre packed with people watching the blockbuster movie Barbie.

“As you can see, there is plenty of open parking on a busy night,” he said.

He also presented potential revenue the development could bring to the local economy. This project has already invested $3.5 million in the economy. Building permits would bring in about $27,000 to $33,000, and future investment of $20,000 to $30,000 in taxes.

The financial windfall this could bring was backed by Jennifer Whitmore, general manager of Community Futures Boundary. She had discussed the revenue generation with the developers and they calculated this would create 10 full-time and 15-to-20 part-time jobs. Payroll will generate $40,000 monthly from the 10 full-time jobs, $640,000 annually with projected increases doubling in heavy traffic months. The brewery could contribute $1.2 million annually to local economy.

“Unemployment in Kootenay Boundary is 5.5 per cent and expected to rise with closures of value-added manufacturers,” she said.

Sean Aquilane, representing the Boundary Regional Chamber of Commerce, read a letter on behalf of executive director Sarah Dinsdale for parking variance request.

“The Market District is the economic heart of the city, as well as historically significant,” he read. “It’s crucial we continuously explore innovative ways to facilitate growth while we maintain the charm and accessibility that we have.”

Speaking for himself, Aquilane agreed more businesses and people downtown would help with safety, specifically for people like himself and his staff at Gem Theatre who work late nights.

Dr. Mark Szynkaruk, one of the developers, expressed his discontent on having to return to council to debate parking after he and his partners have spent years and millions to bring the project to fruition.

“I’m not pleased that I have to re-present to council,” he said. “To fumble a private investment of this magnitude is incompetence personified.”

He added being asked to come up with $25,000 for parking had shaken the confidence of the developers and investors. In addition, he and the other developers would be encouraging staff to walk or bike to work and the manager lives across the street, so they would not be taking up spaces in front of the brewery as was brought up in a previous meeting.

His comments and a letter sent to city council touched off a heated debate over the parking variance and for what Councillors Neil Krog and Rod Zielinski both considered personal attacks.

Along with Krog and Zielinski, the other councillors and Baker jumped in to rectify the situation with all agreeing they wanted to see the project go ahead, but as elected officials, they had a duty to debate and consider all variables, including parking fees.

“I take offence to being called incompetent. No one is disrespecting the value of this project,” Krog said. “During discussion we came up against the largest waive for parking, ever. We did waive fees in the past, but this is 25 spaces and we have never asked anyone to pay $25,000 for parking fees.”

Councillor David Mark added he personally loves the project, but was concerned with developers not directly communicating concerns with city staff.

“If they are basing their decisions on opinion rather than directly communicating with staff, that’s mildly concerning,” he said

However, he did point out if the city wants to encourage more development in the downtown, they would have to come up with some creative parking solutions.

The development permit was approved on terms and conditions, including an off-street parking variance as presented in the permit and that the permit not be issued until city staff receives security of $1,021.88, or 125 per cent of the estimated cost for landscaping materials, including mulch and topsoil to be held for one year and one growing season.

Councillors Zielinski and Zak Eburne-Stoodley opposed.

In addition, Councillor Christine Thompson put forth a resolution that council direct staff to review the zoning bylaw and other bylaws in order to remove the need for dedicated parking fees required for downtown parking. It narrowly passed, with Krog, Eburne-Stoodley and Zielinski opposing.

About the Author: Karen McKinley

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