Monday, November 23, 2015

Stop the Presses. Town of Lunenburg and The Hat Junkie Agree.

This morning I looked at the agenda for the Live/Work Task Force and I came across a very pretty presentation that our mayor, building official and development officer made for the Building Advisory Committee.  It seems they were not actually able to present it, but it's there on the website for all to view. click here for the link.  Choose LWTF Nov. 23rd.  (It might also be read as Live WTF)

These reports do cost us tax payers money, so I hope their  plea for provincial help will not go unheeded. 
When I first read this:
 I thought, Oh my goodness, why is this so difficult for The Town of Lunenburg to understand?  The function of land use and how it informs the building code has been working beautifully all over North America for many years.  So many people have tried to help our mayor and council understand that permitted uses of a home are found in Land Use Bylaws and that land use provisions do ensure the safety of a home occupation, but somehow they cling to the notion that they need to view a home occupation as a commercial occupancy even though none are permitted in residential zones.
I was about to begin my regular post staff report head banging ritual when I came to this part:
I read through it a couple of times before realizing that, Hot Dawg!!! The Hat Junkie and The Town of Lunenburg want the same thing.  Provincial Clarification.  I happen to be coming at the request from a position of understanding and they happen to be coming to it from a position of misunderstanding, but no matter, there is common ground here.

The Town is asking for an amendment to the Nova Scotia Building Code Act.  In my presentation, I requested the same solution with one small difference.  If the province goes for the technical amendment then it will take years and has as much chance of failure as it has at success, but if the province accepts the recommendation to add explanatory material to the appendix of the code, well then, the same thing will have been accomplished, but for way less money and the results will be instant.

So, pleeeeaaase, Minister Churchill, the mayor of Lunenburg may be too proud to get down on bended knee and beg, but I'm not.  Nova Scotia really needs home based businesses and home based businesses really need the support of the Nova Scotia government.    Just one little clarification.  I'll never ask you for anything again in my life.  (I learned that last line from my 11 year old)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

An Enormous Tiny Gesture - Municipal Awareness Week

Most of you out there probably are not aware that this is Municipal awareness week.  Two years ago, I would have given that as much thought as I give to the weeds in my garden.  But, I have become keenly interested in municipal government and in the concept of good governance, it's importance to our everyday lives and to the future prosperity of our communities.

Thursday is market day.  Also known as gossip day for me.  I stand by my hats with the premise of earning a living, but really it's my day to chat with my neighbours.
A woman that I know casually came by my booth and handed me a gift bag containing Homemade Jam and a card.  Here's what the card says:   Anna, a small thank you for the good work you are doing around Municipal and Provincial by-laws and policies.  I've been following along and have been applauding you all the way.  I'm sure it's been a difficult road - but one that is vital for the well being of our province. 
It seemed fitting during "Municipal Awareness" week to thank you for making us all aware.  Engagement at its best. xo, Jennifer N.

I had a very hard time holding it together.  So many people come up to me and thank me and it always means a lot.  But these little, yet enormous gestures are what gives me the strength to go on.
No, there is nothing super human about me.  Breaking down has become a regular part of my life.
I am in no way asking for pity.  While in some ways this has been one of the most difficult times of my life, in other ways it has been the best.  I have learned, I have grown, I have met the helpers and I have seen the power of an engaged community.  Yes, it's been bloody hard, but I would never turn back the clock.

Thank you Jennifer, for that one small gesture.  I hope you know how big it was.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

I Cried on Columbus

This little sad tale is the prelude to a happy announcement about a beautiful little craft show that I will be doing this coming Sunday, right here in lovely Lunenburg, NS.
Every year at this time I am asked if I will be doing any big craft shows and my answer is always the same.  Uhhh, no, sorry, but please come visit me in my studio or at our local farmers' market or you can order online.  It's just that I have a bit of a history with large craft shows  (as do most crafts people) and at some point I had to admit defeat and come up with a new business plan.

My story begins with this beautiful display booth, built for me by my husband, Tony, who was not yet my husband.  The sort of  booth constructed out of  new love, with no hope for ever being repaid for the effort.
I remember when Tony built this booth, he stated that his goal was to make its assembly so simple that I would be able to put it together all by myself.  He later went on to call this booth the biggest failure of his life.  He had not accounted for my ineptitude with a screw gun.  I'm sorry all you competent, power tool yielding lady friends of mine.    I am not one of you.  I tried.  I swear I did.   In the end, Tony had to come to every craft show with me.  Not once was this accomplished without a fight.  And this one particular fight will forever be etched in my memory.

At the time, we lived in Marblehead, MA and the craft show in question was in New York City.  A mere 4 1/2 hour drive away.  The show is called Crafts on Columbus.  It is an outdoor show that takes over a few blocks of Columbus ave.  It takes place on Columbus day weekend in October.  Now, some of you that live in the North east of the United States may already be cluing in to the first hurdle.  Holiday weekend traffic out of Boston.  I had no idea.  Hurdle number two was "that car".  You know the one.  The lemon.  The vehicle that vacuumed up your life savings, or worse, put you into ridiculous credit card debt.  Every replaced part accompanied by a small prayer that this would be the last one.  But it never was.  It just went on and on.  It was a Chevy GMC Van.  Front wheel drive for the suckiest of winter driving.  To this day I can not look at one of those vans without crying.

We hit the road around noon.  The clouds above were ominous and angry.  Tony and I had already had a few preliminary warm up fights under our belts to set the mood.  As I hinted at already, traffic was insane.  I could of strolled out of Boston in better time.  It took us two hours to just pass the city line.  And then the skies opened.  Torrential down pour.  Zero visibility.  Faded yellow lines, faded signage and the windshield wipers stopped working.  I kid you not.  Thirty more miles and two hours later, the passenger seat belt broke.  I awaited my death.  No concern or pity from the driver side of the car only contempt and brooding resentment.

Nine hours into our four hour journey we came to a roadside diner in Yonkers.
After hours of stony silence, Tony turned to me, eyes narrowed, and said, "Go inside and ask for a potato."
Hands trembling, heart pounding (not from fear of my future husband, but from having been sure for several hours that I was about to die) I replied in a quiet voice, "A potato?"
" Yes", he said, "I heard it on NPR's Car Talk.  If the windshield wipers stop working, rub a potato on the windshield and the starch will lessen the rain drops."
I knew this was no time to argue and despite my embarrassing mission, I was relieved to have an excuse to leave the car.

I walked into the diner and was met by one of those sweet looking older NY Diner waitresses that make you want to put your head on their shoulder and call them, Mom.
"What can I do for you, Sweetie,"  she said in her raspy voice.
"Umm, I know this is a strange request, but do you happen to have a potato that I could buy from you?"
  After a quizzical moment of silence, I told her about our arduous journey and she insisted I call Tony in from the car.  I knew this woman would make everything better, so I did as I was told.
Tony came inside.  She sat us down and  put two pieces of blueberry pie and a potato in front of us.  Amazing what blueberry pie can do for a man.  The things we can learn from an older generation. We paid our bill, the waitress gave me a wink and we returned to the Van.

Tony was not yet speaking, but the smoke was no longer coming out of his ears.  He rubbed the potato on the windshield and we continued on our less than merry way.  The potato thing doesn't work, just to save you the trouble, but the last leg of our journey was easier than the first.

We arrived at our hotel at 2a.m.  We awoke at 6 a.m to set up the show.  The rain had not let up. We set up the tent and the booth.  I put out the hats.  After an hour or so, I began to notice little rain drops leaking through the tent.  The rain was coming down so quickly that it was gathering in pools on top of the tent.  Every few minutes Tony would take a stick and lift up the top of the tent from the inside, and we would watch gallons of water hit the sidewalk.  Still, not a word had passed between us.
I stood on Columbus ave. sopping wet and exhausted and I started to cry.  I cried on Columbus.  I let loose and let it go.  Tony came over, hugged me and slowly my tears turned into laughter.  We both laughed uncontrollably.

An amazing thing happened then.  Many women had run under my tent to escape the down pour.  As they huddled close, they looked around and noticed the hats.  They began to try them on.  In typical NY fashion, they found the sunshine on a rainy day.  I was swamped, both literally and figuratively.  I sold a lot of hats that day.  I could never call that show a financial success, but I covered my costs and a little more and we lived to tell the tale.  We always refer to this memory as the time I cried on Columbus.

So here we are in Lunenburg, NS, almost fifteen years later and I am about to do a tiny, beautiful, manageable little craft show this coming Sunday.  It's called the Old town Craft Show and it will be at The Lunenburg School of the Arts this Sunday from 1-5.  You can check it out here. No death defying car ride, no stress, no potatoes.  I'll post more photos tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Dear Government of Nova Scotia

Dear Government of Nova Scotia,

I think I really need you to step in now.  I'm in over my head.  Today the phone rang.  Again.  Under normal circumstances this would not put me in a state of panic, but ever since going public with my concerns regarding the red tape that home based businesses are facing in Lunenburg and other parts of rural Nova Scotia, I have become something of a receptacle for really sad stories of lives ruined and dreams dashed in our province.
The word has got out that I understand why commercial building code does not apply to home based businesses in municipalities with Land Use Regulations.  People  being told by the town of Lunenburg that they need to do extensive renovations to their homes are turning to me for guidance.

So, I picked up the ringing phone and the call was from a young woman wanting to put an offer on a home in Lunenburg.  I won't tell you her name publicly, but will be happy to share the information with you privately.  She is a professional.  The business she wants to establish here will be a great service to the entire South Shore of NS.  Our Development officer confirmed that her business falls within our Land Use Regulations.  She asked the building inspector to look at the home she wants and he told her that she should be sure that whichever home she buys can accommodate his lengthy list of renovations.  She is confused.  She called me to ask if what the building inspector said was correct.  No, he is absolutely incorrect.  She was planning to put an offer on this house tomorrow.  Can she go ahead and do this?  What in Heaven's name can I say to this poor woman?  This is too much pressure for me.  I hung up the phone and cried.

Dear Government, can I please remind you what it is I do for a living?  I make hats.  They are really nice hats, but that doesn't really give me the authority to tell this poor woman to invest her life savings into this province when there is no guarantee that any of her elected officials are going to stand up for her rights and ensure that she is not made to tear her house apart to construct a commercial occupancy in a residential zone where no commercial occupancies are permitted.

It's been two months now since I presented before the Building Advisory Committee.  Everyday, I think today is the day that my government will take this responsibility off my shoulders.   I know, I know, nothing moves quickly in politics, but here's the thing- That information that I shared with the Building Advisory Committee is so completely understood in this whole continent.  It's the same everywhere.  It's the most basic of basic concepts.   We don't need to reinvent the wheel.  But don't take my word for it.  Please pick up the phone and talk to a very nice man named Jim Donovan.  Do you know him?  He is the manager of municipal compliance for the Halifax Regional Municipality.  He really knows what he is talking about.  Anything to do with building or planning goes through him.  He is even one of the authors of The National Building Code.  He's very patient.  He has answered 6,753 of my questions in the past year.  There's another nice lady that works with him that is the manager of development approvals.  She'll help you, too.  These people really care about this province.

Please, I am losing it, here.  The people of Nova Scotia elected you guys to do the right thing on our behalf.  They didn't elect me.  I simply can't do this anymore.  It's not my job.  I am not in a position of authority.  If any of the information I shared is confusing just call Jim.  He'll help.  That's what he does.

Thanks so much,

The Hat Junkie

Monday, November 9, 2015

Reporting Live From The LIve/Work Task Force

Today I decided to muster up my courage to sit in the gallery of the Live/Work Task Force Meeting.  I swore to myself that I would keep my mouth shut.  (Guess how long that lasted?)  I'm really glad I went, though. I eventually just sat in those press seats because my hearing is not that great.  Apparently, that new sound system is waiting on a staff report.

Firstly, I want to say, Good Job to all the members.  The dialogue was very respectful.  One of the biggest surprises to me was that it seems that from all members that were not on council or worked for the town, the understanding seems to be growing.  I had walked in with the prejudice that Mr. Myra, having been somewhat outspoken for not wanting home based businesses in his neighbourhood would be working against progress.  That really didn't seem to be the case at all.  It seemed as though he truly grasped the concept that it does not make sense to classify a home based business as a commercial occupancy when commercial businesses are not permitted in the residential neighbourhoods.  He also seemed to be very comfortable with the notion that if a home based business grew beyond what was acceptable in our Land Use Bylaw that it would then need to find a home in the commercial zone.  That case scenario is what we all want.

There was some discussion about removing development permits for home based businesses.  All I can say about that is, "For Heaven's Sake, Don't Do That!"  We need to understand why that permit is there.  The permit is there so that the town can ensure that businesses are indeed staying within the limitations of Land Use Requirements.  The best example of this would be a daycare.  You want to know that a Home Occupation Daycare does not have more children than allowed.  You also want to know that people are not working with dangerous equipment in their home or causing a nuisance to a residential neighbourhood.  The business owner also wants the peace of mind that some nasty neighbour can't shut them down.  (these things happen all the time)

Jessika Hepburn did a fabulous job of hammering home the point that we need to adjust the wording in our Land Use Bylaw to make it clear that a Home Based Business is still your home and does not become a commercial occupancy.
The only reason to send the building inspector would be if there is extensive construction going on.  Unfortunately, our development officer and Councillor McGee were not buying it.  They repeated how they can't interfere with the building code.  Our development officer said, "A Land Use Bylaw can not dictate the Building Code."  This is where my hand shot up, but councillor McGee said, very politely, that it would not be fair to allow me to speak.  I felt a little bit like Barbara Streisand in Funny Girl, sitting behind Omar Sharriff, trying to not give away his poker hand, but she had nothing resembling a poker face.  It's just so damn hard to keep your mouth shut when you know the answer.

So, here's the answer:  Our development officer is correct.  A land use bylaw can not dictate the building code.  A land use bylaw tells you what uses are permitted to operate in a home and still be called a home.  This then clues in the building inspector to understand what code applies to the development.  The best example I can give here is a Bed and Breakfast.  Our Land Use Bylaw tells us that you can use four rooms or less in a Bed and Breakfast and it is still considered a residential occupancy.  Anything above that and it can not operate in the residential zone and is no longer a home occupation.  For some strange reason, the town seems to accept this.  Perhaps they think that there is a definition for a Bed and Breakfast in the Building Code.  There is not.  If the building inspector used only the Building Code to define a bed and breakfast he would have to come up with Motel or Inn and all sorts of commercial code would come into play.   The town also insists that they can not tell the building inspector what to do.  This is also incorrect.  They need to inform the building inspector about their land use provisions.  Simple.  That is called proper management.  It works like that in Halifax.    It is one department communicating with another.  What I really do not understand is why our development officer, who is not a certified planner,  does not get in contact with certified planners working in our province and find the answer for herself.  There are list servers set up specifically for this purpose.  It's almost as if she is being instructed by administration not to find the right answer.  But that's just my mad hatter speculation.

Susan Hudson did a wonderful job of bringing the Ivany Report into the discussion repeatedly.  Ultimately, it is what we need to use as our measuring stick.

Lastly, I had a nice conversation with Gladys, who is on the task force and runs a small hairdressing salon from her home.  I could see that she did not feel it was fair that she was asked to make changes to her home back in 1997 and that she is being made to pay commercial property taxes on the portion of her home that is being used for her business.   It's unfortunate  that she was made to do these changes because it seems as though her business is less than 25% of her home and since she established her business after the town adopted Land Use Regulations the town should have ensured that the building inspector understood that her business was not a change of use.  She wondered aloud if the town would reimburse her for all the commercial taxes she has had to pay over the years.  I doubt that would happen, but we certainly can move forward and stop charging commercial property taxes on a residence.  Bed and Breakfasts currently do not pay commercial taxes.  The rules should be equitable for all.  After the meeting, I enjoyed hearing her reminisce about the town when she was a child.  She described how there were small home based businesses everywhere, how you never had to leave town to buy necessities.  I think we can get back there one day.  If people can come to Lunenburg and establish small, appropriate businesses in their homes then they can support shops like Stan's Dad and Lad, owned by Mr. Myra, get their haircuts at Gladys' place, buy hats from me, purses from my neighbour, rum from Ironworks, coffee from The Laughing Whale, women's clothes from Luvly, gifts from Jenny Jib.  And when there are enough people here to support year round businesses in the commercial zone, more will come.  It's all part of a healthy economic circle.  We just need to understand that home occupations are not commercial businesses, but we support each other.  This understanding will only make Lunenburg even better than it is.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Unsung Heroes

Last night we went to a beautiful tribute to veterans who had been unrecognized by the Canadian Government: Aboriginals, African Nova Scotians, Acadians, Canadian Merchant Marines. It was called Unsung Heroes.
I had no idea what I was in for, but it was very beautiful.   Music, traditional dances and story telling at the beautiful St. John's Anglican Church.

The highlight for me was when an ancient aboriginal man who had served in the second world war stepped up to the microphone, with the help of two people, and recited a traditional prayer.
 I'm going to have to paraphrase what he said.: We ask the creator to give us strength to enjoy each day and to always be grateful. 

I think that's the only prayer I will ever need.

Friday, November 6, 2015

How Welcoming Can We Be and Can we Just Fix This Please?

Yesterday afternoon the phone rang.  I picked up to hear a woman's voice on the other end.  The crying baby in the background assured me this was not a telemarketer.   The woman said, Hello, is this Anna?  Yes, it is.  Hi, My name is Melissa and I'm calling from Alberta.  I hope you don't think I'm crazy, but my family and I are thinking about moving to Lunenburg.  I came across a video that you were featured in and I was wondering if you had a few minutes to answer some questions.

I assured Melissa that I did not think she was crazy.  That I have received versions of this call multiple times and I'm always happy to help.  I took a deep breath because this time my answer was going to have to be a little different than my previous answers.   I explained to Melissa that I have been at the centre of a Lunenburg controversy for some time now and told her that I will be completely honest with her.  Here's how our conversation went.

Melissa told me that her and her husband would like to buy a house and run a bed and breakfast.  I told her that while we have a booming tourist industry, the winters are really quiet.  Does one of them have another job?  Yes, her husband works from home.  Super!  That's the big check mark.  There are few jobs here.  You have to come here and make things happen.  She explained to me that they don't expect to be rich.  They want to come  for the life style.  Very reasonable expectation.  That sounds like everyone I know.  A few more things about that Bed and Breakfast.....It is permitted as a home occupation in our Land Use Bylaw, but right now in many parts of rural Nova Scotia, Home Occupations are sometimes being incorrectly seen as separate commercial occupancies.  This triggers all kinds of commercial building code and the expense will often stop the dream before it starts.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that the province has shown the desire to clarify this issue and this clarification should be coming out very soon.  We are all waiting with baited breath to see if the Liberal Government will remove red tape for home based businesses.  I think it will go well, but I'm nervous.  With everything the Ivany report has told us about out migration and our aging population, we know how much we need to attract immigrants and people from other provinces.  I can only pray that this clarification will be loud, strong and clear.  The current economic reality calls for a strong solution.  I think the solution I submitted, that was written with the help of the foremost experts on the building code and planning that we have in this province is a strong and clear solution.

Melissa asked me about day to day life in Lunenburg.  Here's where I got to exhale.  I love this place.  I couldn't be happier.  There are so many young families.  I have more friends here than anywhere else that I have lived.  People talk to each other on the street.  People smile at each other as they pass.  The Banks, the post office and the town hall always have dog biscuits to hand out.  My son has so much freedom here.  He can walk to his friends' houses, go to the park by himself.  We have 2 pools, a skating rink, tennis courts, playgrounds, walking trails,  great little shops, cafes, restaurants and festivals.  On my one block, children are always playing on the street.  My beautiful 80 year old neighbour across the street has been crowned honorary grandmother and the kids always go over there to play and eat forbidden cookies.

And then this question, which I know must have been hard to ask.  My husband is from east Africa.  Our children are mixed race.  Do you think people are open minded in Lunenburg?  Deep breath.  Everyone that I am friends with is open minded and welcoming and I am friends with many people.  I will personally connect you to other moms raising babies and you will be welcomed.  How can I promise this woman that her children will never encounter a negative experience?  I can't.  Small mindedness exists in Lunenburg and Nova Scotia as it does all over Canada, but I don't think it will touch her daily life.  Nova Scotia is in the throws of change.  Change for the better.  Are there any other black people in Lunenburg?  Uhhhhh, Welllll, there's one, no two.  They are loved and welcomed.  I always see an adorable black boy skipping to school in the mornings.  That's three.  Oh, please come and make it six.  There is nothing more wonderful than multiculturalism.  It always makes a place better.  We need you here.

The Ivany Report has told us that all Nova Scotians need to do their part to help this province thrive.  I think I just contributed a little bit in one small way.  It was such a pleasure to participate in The Live Well in Lunenburg Video.  Spending half an hour here and there to convince someone to move here is really a privilege that was bestowed upon me by accident.  Now I need you guys reading this to do your part.  If you live in Lunenburg or elsewhere in Nova Scotia please leave a welcoming comment for Melissa and her husband Dennis and their two babies.  Tell them how much we need them here.  If you are Minister Furey, Minister Churchill or Premier McNeil please, please adopt a solution quickly.  Us regular folk can be friendly and welcoming till the cows come home, but if new families meet oppressive regulations and can not easily navigate the system then the work we do as ordinary citizens is of no value.  Oh, for crying out loud.  Look at this baby! I need to hug that guy.   Please, you guys at Province house just fix this building code/planning thing. The solution is easy and it's free.  Meanwhile, we here in Lunenburg and the rest of Nova Scoita will work on being as welcoming as humanly possible.