Lower Lonsdale businesses cry foul over construction chaos

Business owners on the 100-block of West First Street are crying out for the City of North Vancouver's help as the impacts of nearby condo construction are sapping them of parking and foot traffic.

With entire 100-block of Lonsdale under redevelopment, the sidewalk and parking on the west side of Lonsdale Avenue have been blocked off. That follows business owners having to contend with construction impacts from the Capstone condo development on West Second Street. Another mix-used building is also set to begin construction in the coming weeks on West First.

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"If the same logic and problem solving is applied at this site, the two major arteries to our businesses will be impassible. Who, when all these negotiations took place, was representing the interest of the Lower Lonsdale businesses? Because we don't seem to be protected at all," said Wendy Easton, owner of Colette's Frocks.

Easton and other affected business owners recently lined up to petition council for help. Businessses in the area are collectively losing about $10,000 a week in revenue thanks to the drop in business, said Easton.

"I suspect if the developer had to pay for this, they would not be interested in closing the sidewalk and parking anymore," she said.

Easton requested that the business owners be reimbursed for their financial losses during construction.

She also asked that the sidewalk only be closed when absolutely necessary.

While the business community has been largely supportive of the redevelopments and the increase in customers they will eventually bring, the city needs to show some consideration in the meantime, said Travis Battaglia, style manager at Supernova Salon.

"When roads, sidewalks and parking spaces are given over to developers and construction companies, all businesses in the area suffer. We are asking for a rebalancing of the wishes of the developers and the needs of established businesses. Loss of business is bad for everyone," he said.

Without some sort of council intervention, those business owners might not be around to enjoy the new customers, said Hong Zhang, who became owner of the Food Warehouse in October last year. "From the start until construction started, business was getting better and better. More and more customers came but after construction, mice came more than customers," she said.

"After (construction) is finished, more customers may come. Before that, we may die. We need help."

Council listened sympathetically before passing a series of motions aimed at mitigating construction impacts. Among them: curtailing film shoots in the area to avoid further disruption, doing rodent and bird control before the next building is demolished, adding signs to direct shoppers to the businesses and keeping pedestrian access open whenever it is safe to do so.

But, some ideas fell flat on arrival. According to the city's chief administrative officer, there is no legal way to forgive the businesses' municipal taxes or grant them back.

Coun. Pam Bookham pushed city staff to go further, including looking into whether the city could allow time-limited free parking in its lot on the other side of Lonsdale and whether there is a legal way to waive business licence fees for affected owners. "I see a lot of good intention but I don't see very much in the way of specific actions and I think the only way we can see those necessary actions are taken is for the city to take charge," she said.

Coun. Don Bell added another motion requesting staff keep council informed about any foreseeable construction impacts related to new projects in the future.

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