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City to hold public consultation on micro-retailers on Wednesday

"The city wants to save your corner store — and hear from you before planners put the final touches on an innovative zoning amendment that could see micro-retailers pop up in residential neighbourhoods.

Almost 60 corner stores are grandfathered into established urban communities zoned exclusively for homes. If a convenience store closes or its owner dies, it’s very difficult to keep the shop as a shop — the property’s use automatically switches to residential to match the rest of the neighbourhood’s zoning. And applying for a rezoning is prohibitively expensive for many small business owners: the application fee alone starts at $15,000.

But in six inner-city wards — Rideau-Vanier, Rideau-Rockcliffe, Alta Vista, Capital, Somerset and Kitchissippi — the city planners are proposing to change that by creating a new “residential commercial” zoning category for very small businesses that take up less than 100 square metres (or about 1,000 square feet).

“We’ve been speaking with the communities involved for about a year, “said Alain Miguelez, the city’s planner for intensification and neighbourhoods. “It started with a questionnaire that asked people if they liked the idea of having little corner stores and little retail services within the neighbourhood that they could walk to. We asked what they’d like to see, what they wouldn’t like to see.”

More than 1,200 people responded, mostly in favour of changing the zoning. Miguelez credited the Citizen story on vanishing corner stores with helping to bring attention to the issue, as “it shone some light on the phenomenon that we’re dealing with.”

In addition to trying to retain existing commercial locations in neighbourhoods, the city also asked residents if there were additional locations where a micro-retail shop might work if the opportunity existed in the zoning. If the zoning changes go through, it would be possible for residents in some otherwise purely residential neighbourhoods to open small businesses, including an artist’s studio, repair shop or even a small restaurant with a tiny (30-square-metre) patio.

“There is a real pent-up demand for that kind of micro-opportunity to incubate small businesses,” said Miguelez.

The concept of jobs that are somewhere between a home-based business — think a single hair stylist working out of a spare bedroom — and a full-on retail store isn’t new: already 28,500 jobs exist in this “in-between” sector in Ottawa. Changing the zoning will simply make it a bit easier to create new ones.

City planners will present their ideas to the public at Wednesday evening’s public consultation and will ask for public feedback on the proposal."

Source: Joanne Cianello, Ottawa Citizen. January 19, 2015.