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"

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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(16) Comments:

#1. Posted by Besotted on September 13, 2017

Just for comparison, Inuvik, which has less than half the population of Iqaluit, has 7 places where you can go to drink alcohol or have alcohol with a meal. Yellowknife, with three times Iqaluit’s population, has 36.

Iqaluit has how many?

#2. Posted by homeowner on September 13, 2017

As a homeowner in another part of town, i would be concerned with having a drinking establishment so close to my house. But there is no businesses in my area.
having said this, these home owners are close to legion and nav. There was also nova and there is elks. The area has been exposed to drinking the whole time.
Maybe look at the hours of operation. Last call at 10:30 and closing at 11

#3. Posted by Name withheld by request on September 13, 2017

City workers need to do their best for the community, why can’t one of the business owners do more family orientated business. There seems to be a highlight on booze, self abuse (self destruct) Is this where we want to lead our loved ones, the generations that come before us? Please do what’s best for the people of Iqaluit.

#4. Posted by Iqaluitdrinks on September 13, 2017

“Alleged ” party, but the employees were fired. That speaks a lot in itself. And unless they fired them Tuesday evening the employee parties Saturday night (9th of September) still work there.
Maybe the city will pay the homeowners when their property values plummet from a bar on their doorsteps. The kololas , residents for 20 years were forced out of their house; conveniently bought by Big Racks for a fraction of the value. Can i build a bar in the old Starbucks location? That’s commercial. Off to get a permit!

#5. Posted by Sure whatever on September 13, 2017

There are very few restaurants in town, and when one gets proposed in the downtown area where it should be it gets bombarded.

Sure Leyton, it’s a bad spot. Let’s put it by the dump or the jail, or near someone else’s property. As long as it’s not yours, right?

#6. Posted by Drunkqalunat on September 13, 2017

#2 Not in your back yard either? Most who are opposed to the idea have it within 100 metres of their bedroom windows, and that is significantly closer then the legion an entire street away.
#5 if you had attended the meeting you would have heard the entire remarks, about how the city is violating it’s own development for the downtown area. It specifically mentions “preserving the residential area” and not allowing commercial development to hinder or harm existing residents. A plan the city spent $500,000 on conducting. Now they either have to amend it to rewrite it entirely.  Putting a bar that operates at all hours, which is what is proposed versus a 150m square greasy spoon is a big difference.

#7. Posted by Steve Leyden on September 14, 2017

#5 the correct spot would be in a zone allocated for such an establishment. That is unless of course you would like to volunteer your back yard?

#8. Posted by Stop blaming alcohol on September 14, 2017

Just like everyone else in the world, we are responsible for our own actions.

If you can’t handle your alcohol, don’t drink.

Grow up.

#9. Posted by Resty on September 14, 2017

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

Wow. Dramatic much? A restaurant and bar just closed, and nav will be closing soon. The beer and wine store certainly will cut down on bootlegging and binge drinking hard liquor. I don’t see how there’s an alcohol takeover. Have you ever tried to build anything that isn’t a residential home in this town? It is nearly impossible, due to the ridiculously insane zoning by-laws in this town. This area is likely Mr. Wilkins’ best hope of opening a place like this. It is a mixed use area. These folks chose to buy a home in that zone.  If the city wants to remain a huge joke compared to other capital cities, then continue making it difficult for it to grow. You want tourists and businesses to come spend money here? Give them options for places to stay and places to eat and have a drink. .

#10. Posted by Sam on September 14, 2017

#1 we know how Inuvik is, for the size of that town what goes on because of drinking is crazy, it can be a wild show, we don’t want to go on that path.

This fast food joint should of never been allowed to be where it is, right in the residential neighbourhood.

Snack serves beer and wine now, Navigator is a bar/restaurant, there is enough places for you to drink in town, plus go buy beer and wine every day if you want.

Fast food places wanting to sell booze, I guess to increase its bottom line in profit and also for those who like drinking. But really, close the flood gates on this one.

Yes we are responsible for our actions, and we are responsible for our community, instead of looking down your nose and just yourself we have to act as a whole and do what is right as a society.

#11. Posted by Name withheld by request on September 14, 2017

You can be 70 and still be told to grow up, drinking responsibly doesn’t make you older or wiser. No one is blaming alcohol, or big racks. There are plenty of establishments that serve booze, why not something else?

#12. Posted by Rest on September 14, 2017

Actually #10, it is an area that the city has zoned as a mixed use area. It is not simply a residential area. Homeowners should be aware of this when they choose to buy a home in that area. It is one of the few areas in town that is zoned this way. That’s on the city.

#13. Posted by Steve Leyden on September 14, 2017

#12 The area has restrictions on that mixed use. Business owners should be aware of that when they buy 5 properties.

#14. Posted by Sled dog on September 14, 2017

Wasn’t councillor Kyle complaining recently about air travel costs and comp bureau decision. He knew air travel was expensive when he moved back to Nunavut. Now he uses a similar argument against a local business man saying he knew the constraints in advance. Hypocritical much there Kyle.

#15. Posted by iqalummiuq on September 14, 2017

Having a home on the downtown core of iqaluit has its perks. You are walking distance from the stores, post office, banks and other businesses. You do not need to own a vehicle. The downtown of Iqaluit continues to grow.
Big racks has every right to want to profit. Only an idiot would watch other businesses profit and not do anything.

#16. Posted by Oldtimer on September 15, 2017

Perhaps because of where these buildings are to be torn down, environmental issues should be of concern.  Tear them down and then…? Anyone remember the Tahoonik Sahoonik?  And the big empty lot that needs very expensive remediation.

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