Neighbours still at odds over proposed resto-lounge in Nunavut capital

Big Racks Barbecue owner calls second public hearing for new building a “repeat”


A second public hearing for a bigger restaurant in Iqaluit was well attended on May 8. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

A second public hearing for a bigger restaurant in Iqaluit was well attended on May 8. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

Lower Base resident Stephen Leyden says the city should protect Iqaluit homeowners from commercial “encroachment.” (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

Lower Base resident Stephen Leyden says the city should protect Iqaluit homeowners from commercial “encroachment.” (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

It was take two on Tuesday night for a public hearing over the proposed expansion of a restaurant in Iqaluit’s Lower Base neighbourhood.

The hour-and-a-half long hearing on May 8 gave Iqaluit residents a chance to air grievances over plans to rezone five downtown lots where Matt Wilkins of Big Racks Barbecue wants to build a larger restaurant and lounge.

Around 15 people attended the hearing, held in chambers at Iqaluit City Hall. In advance of the hearing, city administration sent notices to some 55 homes in the affected neighbourhood.

It was the second time around for the meeting, after changes to the project scope meant city planning staff had to rewrite their zoning amendments and start the bylaw process over again, right after the first bylaw had gone through second reading.

For anyone who attended the first public hearing in September, there was a clear sense of déjà vu.

Aside from one of Wilkins’ staffers, it was the same three residents who spoke up about the new restaurant and bar. They were not in favour of the new building.

Those residents were worried about noise pollution, increased traffic, and alcohol-fuelled problems in the family-focused neighbourhood.

One resident of 30 years, who lives across the street from Big Racks Barbecue, said there has been a problem with his utilidor in the winter months ever since the restaurant opened.

Another 20-year resident said that before the restaurant opened in 2016, the neighbourhood was peaceful and quiet. Rowdiness and noise late in the evening from staff housing have changed this, she said.

At the last meeting, “there was talk of concessions,” said resident Stephen Leyden, who has lived on Fred Coman St. for six years. “Instead we’ve got a bigger building.… I don’t see how making it bigger is going to make it better.”

He said his current concerns with the business are already “alcohol-fuelled,” and that a restaurant serving alcohol late in the evening will only aggravate things. He called homeownership a rarity in Iqaluit, and said that homeowners should be protected from commercial encroachment.

“Long-time residents own homes in Lower Base,” Leyden said.

To limit noise pollution, the second version of the zoning bylaw for Big Racks Barbecue requires entrances and patios for the restaurant to face the Capital Suites hotel, and away from private homes. Kitchen vents will also either face in that direction or be on the roof.

If the new restaurant plan passes scrutiny, staff housing will be moved to another location, Wilkins said. He plans to move the three buildings currently on the lots.

Leyden acknowledged that the city needs restaurants, but said he wants the city to look at developing a plan for a commercial area of the city “for shops and bars and restaurants,” instead of disrupting established residential neighbourhoods with piecemeal and one-off projects.

Council has earmarked money to finish its updated general plan this year, Mayor Madeleine Redfern said. The current plan was last updated in 2010.

“I don’t see any other place in town that has better surroundings,” Wilkins told Nunatsiaq News. “This is the area that is designated by the city so far, allowing these types of establishments to operate.”

When he opened his business in 2016, the Waters Edge restaurant was operating in the now-closed Hotel Arctic, and the Navigator Restaurant was still open for eat-in customers. The Iqaluit Legion is also located just up the street.

“I haven’t heard any more complaints or concerns from anyone else,” Wilkins said.

The restaurant owner said he has yet to apply for a liquor licence, and that he isn’t planning to leave his business open late after his kitchen is closed.

“We’re never going away from food. We’re not looking at downgrading and focusing on alcohol,” he said.

“Everybody likes your Big Racks food. Young people really like your French fries. You provide a service to our young people,” Coun. Joanasie Akumalik said.

About half his staff are Inuit, Wilkins said, in response to a question from Akumalik.

When council discussed the bylaw in council directly following the public hearing, Deputy Mayor Romeyn Stevenson made it clear that building a bar in the neighbourhood was already OK.

“It could be a drinking establishment right now,” Stevenson said. “It’s only a little bit out of sync with the current zoning … It’s a size limitation.”

All the complaints raised by residents had to do with the current establishment, he said.

No written complaints were received by council from the community.

Councillors will review second reading of the zoning bylaw at the next council meeting on May 22.

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