The Regular Rules Don’t Apply

You may think of BridgeHead’s Roastery as cool coffee shop. To the City of Ottawa it’s a Small Batch Brewery (SBB). A very special one!  It’s almost like there was a tick box only on their permits:

Regular rules don't applyBack in 2011 BridgeHead was looking for a new location for a “coffee roasting experience”. It wanted to use the old Bell Canada garage at Anderson Street at Preston. Only problem is coffee roasting wasn’t allowed on Preston Street.

The normal way to request to roast coffee on the site would be to apply for a minor variance or a zoning amendment. In either case the public is notified. There is a hearing. Issues are reviewed. Whatever the decision, either side can appeal for a second opinion. That’s what you or I would have to do, but that didn’t happen.

Regular rules don't applyCity staff “interpreted” Small Batch Brewery to also mean coffee roasting. It didn’t seem to matter that “interpretation” is allowed only where the zoning doesn’t cover a need,  and Ottawa had already permitted two coffee roasters in industrial zones. It didn’t seem to matter that the purpose of a SBB is as a place for the public to make beer and wine for personal use.  It didn’t seem to matter that the definition and every condition for SBB stipulates beer or wine only.  It didn’t seem to matter that SBB’s are supposed to be small – no more than 200 m2 and BridgeHead’s Roastery is over 1000 m2. Remember the tick box:

Regular rules don't apply

SBB’s are small non-industrial facilities with little fermenters that occasionally bubble CO2. If you’ve ever smelled burnt coffee you know why coffee roasting was previously only permitted in Industrial zones before staff’s”interpretation”. Roasting coffee on the scale of BridgeHead’s Roastery is an industrial process, controlled by industrial controllers and requiring “afterburners” to mitigate, but not eliminate, the smell. We’ll never know if it would have been permitted if the change had been made public because

Regular rules don't apply

Staff “interpreting” the SSB designation to also allow coffee roasting meant that BridgeHead could use the site to roast coffee. But there was another problem. Parking! None can be provided on site.

Here too the SSB designation is advantageous. Parking requirements for a “Small Batch Brewery” are a lot lower than for a restaurant. At the time if you couldn’t provide parking an exemption was required along with paying the city cash in lieu of parking. The value of spots depended on the use. Those for a SBB were valued at $3,230 each. Spots for a restaurant were worth $7570 each. As a restaurant (coffee shop) the BridgeHead Roastery could need twice as many, or more, of the expensive spaces.

It’s pretty uncommon to get cash in lieu for 11 spots but that was approved. It’s hard to say if relief for 20 or more spaces would have been granted and harder to knows if the difference in fees was affordable to BridgeHead. The fee for 20 restaurant spaces would have been $151,400. The fee requested for the 11 SSB spaces was just $35,530. That’s almost $116,000 less. BridgeHead is currently applying for a liquor license for 375 m2 of space (almost two SBB’s). If that were a normal coffee shop, 35 parking spaces should be provided. Apparently BridgeHead won’t have to provide any more parking for this new use because

Regular rules don't apply

I’ve asked Jim Watson, the Planning Committee Chair and my Councillor about the change. None knew about the change apparently. I’ve asked city staff under what authority they acted. No answer. I’ve been told the senior planning lawyer would get back to me. That hasn’t happened either.

I’ve asked if any BridgeHead’s shareholders were on the previous counsel? Not a word. I’ve asked it any members of planning staff are BridgHead shareholders. Not a word.

It seems to me like a lot of advantage has been given to BridgeHead Roastery without the usual rules applying.

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9 thoughts on “The Regular Rules Don’t Apply

  1. Thanks for this well written explanation. The repercussions for neighbourhoods all around the City are enormous. What is the point of having Zoning Bi laws in place if businesses can circumvent them through City Staff interpretations. I guess the rules don’t apply to everyone equally.

  2. Hmmm, wow. What an interesting oppinions about BridgeHead. I actually go to the Bridgehead (if you actually go to one of the Ottawa only 15 locations, you will quickly see that the ‘H’ is not capitalized) on Anderson. I have been there during the roasting process, which, by the way, is facinating to watch! I have walked around in the neighbourhood around Preston and Anderson and, if I didn’t know there was coffee roasting going on, there is actually nothing that I could smell that would have clued me in. Even when I go get my coffee the inside smells like baking bread, not burnt coffee…

  3. If you know the area you’d know that the prevailing wind from the west to the east. That BridgeHead (I like the capital H) is located at the bottom of a hill with the residential area to the east and above the chimney for venting coffee roasting fumes.

    If you’re at the bottom of the hill you’re smelling bread (they recently moved their city wide bakery there as well). If you walk to the to of the hill you’ll smell roasting (burnt) coffee.

    The smell wasn’t the point of the post, it was a zoning process that to allow coffee roasting – which isn’t defined as permitted in a TM zone is unique to say the least. I’ve been corresponding with the a range of city legal and planning people. Expect to see another post soon.

  4. You are correct Peter CHilds (you’re right, the H looks good in your name too), the smell wasn’t the point about the post. I was reacting to the part of your post below:

    ‘SBB’s are small non-industrial facilities with little fermenters that occasionally bubble CO2. If you’ve ever smelled burnt coffee you know why coffee roasting was previously only permitted in Industrial zones before staff’s”interpretation”. Roasting coffee on the scale of BridgeHead’s Roastery is an industrial process, controlled by industrial controllers and requiring “afterburners” to mitigate, but not eliminate, the smell.’

    I didn’t realize I was only allowed to respond to the point and not the rest of the content of your post 😦

  5. Hey the CHilds looks good. I type it that way myself occasionally.

    You’re free to comment on anything you want – and have it seems to me.

    I wrote the article so I’m allowed to say what the point of it was. The point was the zoning process used is to put a coffee roaster in a TM was very unusual.

    The smell of burn coffee to me is analogous to the smell of the way the zoning happened. Not pleasant.

  6. I was not arguing what the point of your article was, just surprised that I was told that what I commented on wasn’t the point. I usually am walking from Bronson and again point out I don’t smell anything burning . Maybe the smell is in a very localized and specific area though.
    Anyways, as you pointed out, the smell is not the point.
    I personally like Bridgehead and found it surprising the way you attacked the company.
    It seems to me the problem is not how Bridgehead is zoned but maybe the actual zoning laws. I wonder for how many companies in the city the rules do not apply.

  7. Other roasters in in Industrial zones.

    The issue to me is bigger that a single company. Being able to have certainty about zoning and zoning processes underpins the investment every home owner and business makes in their particular area of the city. When changes happen outside that process no-one can be sure about that the zoning means and as a result whether their investment is secure. I’ve spent about 30 years working to fix the zoning that crippled the development of my area of town. Commercial mixed with residential seemed like a good idea in the late 60’s but by the early 80’s it was clear that the risk that the place next door could be commercial stopped people from investing in residential properties which meant the commercial businesses were weaker and weaker. Soon both were in a vicious downward cycle. Focusing commercial onto Preston and Somerset by limiting the permitted commercial uses let people be confident that housing was an ok investment. Over time Preston became more vibrant.

    Allowing industrial uses and to little parking on Preston just restarts a very risky process. As certainty is removed. If that happened due to public zoning processes and people don’t accept my position – I can live with that. When it happens through back room processes that seems designed to stop public debate before it starts – well lets just say I’m going to do everything in my power to ensure there is public debate about whether roasting coffee at that site is really in the public interest, whether the parking deficit in the area can support some of the proposed uses.

    You may not agree with me. If the process is public you’ll get your say. And I will too.

    Hope this helps you understand.

  8. As someone who lives right in direct line of site to Bridghead (or BridgeHead’s) exhaust stack(up the hill from them) I can assure you that the smell is the issue…permitted buy lax adherence to Zoning Bi-laws. If the Zoning Bi-laws had been adhered to, and a public debate as to the viability of this factory getting the green light to open, then perhaps I would be able to open my windows and enjoy my garden!

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