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City of Powell River planning aims to help new business

Director and mayor encourage proactive communication to avoid problems and delays
City hall

Entrepreneurs looking to start new restaurants in the City of Powell River often face steep challenges securing business licences.

Changing the occupancy of a building leads to an automatic building-code review and can mean thousands of dollars in unexpected expense to bring the building up to standard.

It’s here, usually after leases have been signed, that many small-business people run into problems, said City of Powell River mayor Dave Formosa.

“It’s difficult for a small-business person who is not well capitalized to get started in any jurisdiction that has bylaws,” said Formosa.

The mayor said that over the past 30 years, a developing BC Building Code has made it more complicated and expensive to launch small businesses, particularly restaurants. It’s these barriers he said he hears about often from people frustrated by the process.

“There are a lot more regulations now than when I was starting out,” said Formosa.

Formosa said city hall is often cast in a negative light when they are forcing people to follow the province’s regulations. By having the city’s building inspector sign off on projects, it can save businesspeople money down the road, he said.

Thomas Knight, director of planning services for the city, said it has been his experience that a lot of the time when people think they are doing their due diligence, they have not considered what the city’s building inspector is going to be looking at.

“It’s only when the building inspector goes out to establish occupancy that the actual building-related issues come out,” said Knight.

Knight said he is surprised more businesspeople do not come to talk with him before going ahead and signing leases.

“We’re a free service,” said Knight. “It’s not like they’ve got to hire a planning consultant, but people have to come and ask us the questions beforehand.”

He said the majority of cases that get delayed or complicated are because a person has gone ahead and made assumptions about what is required, and then finds out halfway through the process that things are different than they thought.

“We hand out business licences every day, some for easy things, others more difficult,” he said. “Restaurants tend to be the more difficult ones.”

Restaurants are complicated because of the provincial government’s requirements with its building code. Restaurants with deep fryers are required to have adequate air flow.

“Venting can be expensive,” said Knight. “They might be required to put $60,000 to $80,000 into the building in unexpected expenses. The city becomes the bad guy, but we’re just the messenger.”

Formosa said despite the position the building code changes have put his staff at city hall in, he has faith that the department is making the correct interpretations of the code.