A proposed bylaw that would limit the hours of a certain convenience stores in Halifax to address late-night street noise has store owners worried for their livelihood.
The bylaw would apply to spots like Jubilee Junction and Triple A at Jubilee Road and Preston Street in the city's south end. Both stores offer pizza until the early morning hours alongside grocery items and snacks, and the new bylaw would force them to close their doors at 11 p.m.
Michael Habib, who owns Jubilee Junction, said the first time he heard about the issue was late last week when customers brought it up and media outlets began calling.
"You know, it's very hard to establish a business. And apparently, to 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, which is when it began gathering a lot of attention on social media.
Area councillor Waye Mason said he first brought up the topic at council last November when he asked for a staff report on bringing in a bylaw to limit the hours of commercial businesses using a "loophole" in zoning laws to serve food until around 3 a.m. on weekends and 1 a.m. during the week.
The report said the bylaw would apply to 25 businesses, and city staff sent out letters to each one asking for input — but "no responses were received." There were two responses from the website from people supporting the bylaw.
Mason said the reality is most other corner stores in residential areas are able to survive without offering late-night hot food. He said he gets complaints every weekend during the school year when nearby Dalhousie University is in session about people yelling and causing disturbances on the sidewalk outside the convenience stores, pizza in hand.
"It's not one or two grumpy people, it's hundreds of people, it's families, it's businesses, it's the police who are getting calls quite frequently to that bit of street and so we need to find some kind of way to manage the impacts that these businesses are having," Mason said.
Only five stores would actually need to change their hours to follow the proposed bylaw, which includes Jubilee and Triple A. The report did not mention any stores by name, and Mason said he doesn't know what the other three are but has asked 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 hasn't happened.
"I'm affected by this. I should be the first one to be talked to or give feedback," Habib said.
Habib said he plans to meet with Mason and other councillors ahead of the next meeting to fight for the bylaw to be stopped or changed.
When asked about how the bylaw could impact his businesses' income, Habib said the issue 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 did get a letter from staff about the proposed bylaw — but it came right before Hurricane Fiona hit the province. He said the issue completely slipped his mind 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 plenty of people on shift work, or at the nearby hospitals, rely on them for hot food and other necessities after 11 p.m.
If the bylaw does come in, Amyoony said that cuts out about 50 per cent of his business and it's going to be "very hard" to make ends meet.
"I do the impossible to fight ... to keep the hours, to keep the same business and I know all my customer would help," Amyoony said.
Both stores have started gathering signatures for petitions to keep their current hours, and by Sunday hundreds of names had filled both businesses' pages.
Given the limited responses from businesses, Mason said it's clear consultation could have "been better" and further discussion needs to happen. He said he will be reaching out to Jubilee Junction and Triple A to see if there is a way to address the "legitimate issue" of the neighbours in the least harmful way for those owners.
Mason said he's open to "other solutions" like allowing stores to stay open past 11 p.m. if they don't sell pizza, but "business as usual can't continue."
Using other methods to break up disruptive, loud gatherings, like issuing tickets for breaking the noise bylaw are not realistic, Mason said.
"You would literally need to have one of the neighbours 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 in the morning," Mason said.
The bylaw will come before council for second reading later this month. If it passes, it would become law and city staff told council that enforcement could immediately follow.
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