A proposed bylaw that would limit the hours of operation of certain convenience stores in Halifax to address late-night street noise has store owners worried about their livelihoods.
The statute would apply to places such as Jubilee Junction and Triple A at Jubilee Road and Preston Street in the south end of the city. Both stores offer pizza until the early hours of the morning along with groceries and snacks, and the new bylaw will force them to close their doors at
Michael Habib, who owns Jubilee Junction, said the first time he heard about the problem was late last week when customers brought it up and the media started calling.
“You know, it’s very hard to establish a business. And apparently, for City Hall, it’s very easy to kill it,” Habib said Sunday.
The bylaw passed first reading during a Halifax Regional Council meeting last Thursday, where it began garnering a lot of attention on social media.
Zoning Councilman Waye Mason said he first brought the issue to council last November when he asked for a staff report to introduce a bylaw to limit the hours of commercial establishments that use a “loophole” in zoning laws to serve food until around weekends and 1 during the week.
The report said the bylaw would apply to 25 businesses, and city staff sent out letters to each asking for input — but “no response was received.” There were two responses from the website from people who supported the bylaw.
Mason said the reality is that most other corner stores in residential areas are able to survive without offering hot food late at night. He said he gets complaints every weekend during the school year when nearby Dalhousie University is in session about people yelling and causing disruption on the sidewalk outside grocery stores, pizza in hand.
“It’s not one or two angry people, it’s hundreds of people, it’s families, it’s businesses, it’s the police that are often called to that part of the street, and so we have to find a way to deal with the impacts that these companies have,” Mason said.
Only five stores would actually have to change their hours to follow the proposed bylaw, which includes Jubilee and Triple A. The report didn’t mention any stores by name, and Mason said he doesn’t know what the other three are but has asked the city staff.
Mason said he has met with the owners of Jubilee Junction on the issue and “tried” to meet with the Triple A owner.
Habib said that has not happened.
“I am affected by this. I should be the first to be spoken to or give feedback,” Habib said.
Habib said he plans to meet with Mason and other aldermen ahead of the next meeting to fight for the bylaw to be stopped or changed.
When asked how the bylaw could affect his businesses’ income, Habib said the problem is bigger than his own store.
“They get away with this, then they can get away with other things, and they can limit this and limit that — we’re not in a dictatorship … we have rights,” he said.
John Amyoony, the owner of Triple A, said he got a letter from staff about the proposed bylaw – but it came just before Hurricane Fiona hit the province. He said the problem completely caught his eye while he was busy serving customers who were without power for days thanks to their generator. Jubilee also stayed open after the storm thanks to generator power.
Besides students, Amyoony said many people on shift work or at the nearby hospitals depend on them for hot food and other necessities after 1 p.m.
If the bylaw comes in, Amyoony said it cuts out about 50 percent of his business and it will be “very difficult” to make ends meet.
“I’m doing the impossible to fight … to keep the hours, to keep the same business, and I know all my customers would help,” Amyoony said.
Both stores have begun collecting signatures on petitions to keep their current hours, and by Sunday hundreds of names had filled both businesses’ pages.
Given the limited responses from the companies, Mason said it’s clear the hearing could have “been better” and that further discussion needs to happen. He said he will contact Jubilee Junction and Triple A to see if there is a way to resolve the “legitimate issue” for the neighbors in the least damaging way for those owners.
Mason said he is open to “other solutions” such as allowing stores to stay open after 6 p.m. 11 p.m. if they don’t sell pizza, but “business as usual cannot continue.”
Using other methods to break up disruptive, loud gatherings, such as issuing tickets for violating the noise ordinance, is not realistic, Mason said.
“You literally had to have one of the neighbors come over and be able to say ‘that young man right there was the one screaming ‘Sweet Caroline, ba ba ba’ as loud as possible at three o’clock in the morning, Mason said.
The statute will be submitted to the municipal council for second reading later this month. If passed, it would become law, and city staff told the council that enforcement could follow immediately.