Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Iqaluit September 13, 2017 - 4:00 pm

Councillors, residents balk at new resto-lounge in Nunavut capital

“It looks like Iqaluit has been taken over with alcohol consumption"

BETH BROWN
Big Racks currently runs out of this house in the Lower Base neighbourhood. (PHOTOS BY BETH BROWN)
Big Racks currently runs out of this house in the Lower Base neighbourhood. (PHOTOS BY BETH BROWN)
Matt Wilkins, owner of Big Racks Barbecue, speaks at a public hearing Sept 12 on his proposed restaurant expansion. The new build would require the city to re-zone five lots in a residential area of downtown Iqaluit.
Matt Wilkins, owner of Big Racks Barbecue, speaks at a public hearing Sept 12 on his proposed restaurant expansion. The new build would require the city to re-zone five lots in a residential area of downtown Iqaluit.
Lower Base resident Russell Chislett, one of three neighbours who opposed the Big Racks Barbecue expansion, speaks at a Sept 12 public hearing in Iqaluit.
Lower Base resident Russell Chislett, one of three neighbours who opposed the Big Racks Barbecue expansion, speaks at a Sept 12 public hearing in Iqaluit.

Despite being pro-development in its approach to the city’s downtown core, some Iqaluit councillors have qualms about a rezoning amendment proposal that would let a new bar open up in a residential area.

And, residents of the Lower Base neighbourhood where Big Racks Barbecue is proposing an expansion aren’t too thrilled either, councillors heard during a Sept. 12 public hearing held prior to a regular council meeting.

The proposed amendment to the city’s general plan would see the rezoning of five lots to allow for a single-storey commercial development in the residential area. The lots currently hold three residential homes and Big Racks Barbecue.

Big Racks owner Matt Wilkins, who holds leases for the lots, wants to demolish the buildings and build a larger restaurant and adjoining lounge.

About 90 minutes into the meeting, council decided to defer the rezoning item so that the city’s planning and development department can examine how the amendment might fit into the city’s general plan.

But discussion focused as much on alcohol as it did on honouring the city’s existing plan to stick with low-level commercial development in residential areas. 

The city’s director of planning and development, Mélodie Simard, suggested to councillors they could place stipulations on the amendment, such as limits on the restaurant’s hours of operation.

Deputy Mayor Romeyn Stevenson reminded councillors that allowing a new liquor licence in Iqaluit is the responsibility of the Nunavut Liquor Commission.

“It looks like Iqaluit has been taken over with alcohol consumption,” Coun. Joanasie Akumalik said, referencing the recent opening of the new beer and wine store in Iqaluit and The Snack restaurant’s new liquor licence.

“The French fries are good, the service is good,” Akumalik said, of Big Racks, but he said he could not support the amendment. “I think there is too much alcohol going into the community.”

Stephen Leyden, who lives across the street from Big Racks, complained about past disruptions in the area supposedly fueled by alcohol, following alleged late-night staff parties inside Big Racks staff housing.

And, at five lots, the size of the development does not protect the interests of the community, or reflect existing plans and bylaws that are meant to shield residential areas from such development, Leyden said.
“I feel all businesses in Iqaluit should have a chance to grow, I just don’t believe this is the spot,” Leyden said. 

“It’s not something I’m clapping my hands about,” said Russell Chislett, another resident in the area who, besides agreeing with his neighbour, is concerned about the impact on property values, should a bar be built nearby.

“Since they moved in, it isn’t the place you would want to raise a family,” resident Denise Hutchings said. “I would hope that council would do the smart thing for our residential area.”

Wilkins said that employees involved in late night disruptions have since been removed and staff housing for a future restaurant would be located elsewhere.

With leases for five lots, Wilkins has a considerable investment in the project.

“We’re not getting away from food. A bar is not going to be in the name of our business, it’s not ‘bar and grill’, it’s going to remain Big Racks Barbeque,” he said.

And, the business has plans to build its lounge in a separate area of the restaurant so that families can still come in for dinner throughout the evening.

“Nothing is stopping us from trying to obtain a liquor license in our current establishment. We’re not changing our business model, we’d just like a fighting chance to increase our seating capacity,” Wilkins said. 

Coun. Kyle Sheppard called the rezoning a large request.

“The proponent knew what the restrictions were on those lots,” he said. 

But Simard said it’s not uncommon to amend the city’s general plan.

Residents also raised the potential problem of increased traffic, but Wilkins seemed prepared for this critique.

A traffic report, commissioned by Big Racks, showed that of roughly 1,452 vehicles that drive by the restaurant on a given day, 66 are likely to enter the restaurant. Of those 66, only one per cent continued into the residential area, while 99 per cent of cars used the nearby intersection to exit the area.

“It is busy there, but I don’t think it is a result of our restaurant,” Wilkins said.

Coun. Terry Dobbin noted that Northern Properties is currently building a 36-unit apartment building in the same area, which will undoubtedly add traffic. During a public hearing for that development, no one raised concerns about traffic, he said.

Dobbin seemed to think development would bring needed business activity to the city’s downtown core which, he said, is not keeping pace with population growth since 2010, when the city last revamped its general plan.

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