Proposed Iqaluit restaurant-bar goes back to square one

“Two and a half years later we’re back at first reading”


Matt Wilkins says a misunderstanding with the city over how many levels high his proposed new restaurant and lounge will be is costing him time and money. 

Matt Wilkins says a misunderstanding with the city over how many levels high his proposed new restaurant and lounge will be is costing him time and money.

The City of Iqaluit is back at the beginning of a bylaw amendment over two years in the making that would allow Matt Wilkins of Big Racks Barbecue to build a new restaurant and bar in the city’s downtown core.

That’s because council members were under the impression that the local business owner was planning to add a second storey to his proposed new restaurant and lounge. But Wilkins said during a council meeting on April 24 that a two-storey building isn’t in his budget.

It’s an artist’s rendering that led to the confusion.

“I was informed then that I would never be able to develop or build anything on that lot other than what was shown in the drawing,” Wilkins said.

To cover himself for future development plans that could come years down the road, he had a new rendering done that included a second floor.

“I was told if I didn’t show it I would never be able to do it … which turns out was completely incorrect,” he said. “This was for absolutely nothing.”

Wilkins faulted staff turnover in the city’s planning and development department for leading to the confusion that is costing him time and money.

“We have had over $20,000 worth of drawings done, over 17 renderings directed by them.”

The most recent drawing cost about $2,500, he said.

An earlier proposal for the new restaurant made in October 2016 did include a second storey to the building, according to a memo provided to council by contract planning staff.

But in June 2017 that second storey was cut from the plan and the project amended to only rezone the parcel of residential lots for a one-storey building.

Should it pass, the bylaw will rezone five lots to allow for commercial development. Currently, there are three residential units and the existing Big Racks Barbecue on these lots. The buildings would be torn down.

In December, Wilkins submitted the new drawing, which showed two storeys, he said, but never heard any follow-up. When he did manage to get in touch with the department, there was a new staff member, and that person wasn’t familiar with his file.

“Two and a half years later we’re back at first reading with a drawing that we didn’t need to have in the first place … again, initiated by the planning and development department,” he said. “I’m just a little upset about the process and how everything has panned out and the timeline.”

His project investors “have all but backed out,” he said.

Coun. Jason Rochon called the mix-up a “reflection” of city and council decisions to make cutbacks in staffing and to rely on contract workers.

“From a local economic development standpoint, it’s not helping our business community, the choices that we’ve been making,” he said.

A public hearing was held in September for the first restaurant proposal made by Wilkins.

At that time, Lower Base residents were concerned about an increase in noise and mischief that a new licensed restaurant and bar might bring to their neighbourhood.

The residential area already includes the Iqaluit Legion building nearby.

After that hearing, the latest proposal to amend the zoning bylaw says that the entrance of the building must face towards the Capital Suites hotel and away from residential homes, and that any outdoor smoking and seating space must make noise reduction a priority.

“I think we should be treating this as urgent,” said Coun. Kuthula Matshazi, who noted that until recently the city has had stable staffing in its planning and development department.

A second public hearing is tentatively planned for May 8 and will be held in council chambers directly before the next regular meeting of council.

“We’ll try to work through this as best as possible,” said Deputy Mayor Romeyn Stevenson.

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