The owner of one of a handful of businesses targeted by a new bylaw said he had no communication with the municipality before the proposal came to council.
Mike Habib has been running Jubilee Junction Convenience since 1989. It’s a family business, with four other members of Habib’s family working there. Most of the week, they’re open until 1am, but on Fridays and Saturdays, the store is open until about 2:30am, Habib said.
“It’s convenience. We’re here for the people. We have weathered storms together,” Habib said while greeting a customer on Monday morning.
“When you know your customers by name, from little to large, you offer a community service. The impact is huge.”
Last week, Halifax regional councillors voted in favour of first reading of a new bylaw that would curtail Habib’s hours, allowing him to open only from 7am to 11pm daily.
Coun. Waye Mason moved for a report on the issue in November 2021, and it came to council last Thursday recommending a new bylaw applying to established residential neighbourhood zones in the Centre Plan area (peninsular Halifax and Dartmouth within Highway 111). In those zones, there are convenience stores grandfathered in from old rules, which are allowed to sell ready-to-eat food.
“There’s a kind of historic corner store use that was designed for pharmacy and grocery in in these residential neighbourhoods, hard up against single family homes and small apartments, next to schools. And recently they started, some of them, being opened later and later in a way that can be quite disruptive to the community, especially if they’re serving pizza and have a lot of folks coming back from downtown congregating outside eating said pizza,” Mason told councillors.
Mason said the bylaw is “not about any one business.” But, referring to Jubilee Junction and the Triple A Convenience Store across the street, Mason said one of the stores started staying open later, then the other did too. He said he’s heard rumours of other stores with similar plans.
“It’s about keeping that from spreading throughout the peninsula,” Mason said.
“This is an issue to do with legacy businesses and a way to deal with an issue where, several times a year, we have so many people congregating after one or two in the morning that the police have to be called because the street has been blocked, in a residential neighbourhood. Not great.”
Coun. Shawn Cleary mentioned Triple A by name.
“This is one of those cases where it only takes a handful of people to ruin it for everyone. And so we had to bring in a whole bylaw just really to deal with a handful of businesses,” Cleary said.
Habib said the late-night weekend rowdiness is a short-term issue, limited to the start of the school year.
“It’s only in September. Kids come in, now they’re here. As it gets colder, you don’t see them,” he said.
Habib suggested the bylaw came to council at this time of year for a reason.
“People are seeing it now, this is the best time to pass it,” he said.
The store is busy after 11pm every night of the week, Habib said.
“It’s convenience,” he said.
“Like slash the word out, rename the situation, this is what they’re trying to do.”
Habib said the bylaw will be a hit to his business, and there’s a ripple effect in the economy for his suppliers, employees, and customers.
“Who’s going to pay my bills? Council?” he said.
“This is dictatorship. This is not fair game.”
Mason said the new rules bring these stores in line with what’s required in other zones, and what HRM requires in development agreements.
‘No communication whatsoever’
According to the staff report by development officer Andrew Faulkner, the proposed bylaw only effects 25 businesses and they all received a letter.
Habib said he didn’t get a letter, and no one ever asked him to curtail opening hours.
“No communication whatsoever,” he said.
Over the weekend, councillors took to social media to defend the bylaw from a growing backlash.
In a thread, Mason tweeted that the bylaw means only five businesses will have to change their hours.
“I’ve had parents, retirees, university students and many others complain about the disruption and noise, and I am glad I am able to get this change so we can continue to have restaurant service (unlike the rest of HRM) but with reasonable hours given the location,” Mason wrote.
Deputy Mayor Pam Lovelace tweeted, “These are 2 businesses that agree with the change. 0 letters of complaints were received opposing the amendment. The Bylaw changes passed and will be implemented.”
The number two comes from Faulker’s report, where he noted, “There were two responses from the website posting in support of the by-law.” He didn’t write that those responses were businesses. Businesses not replying to letters, the kind Habib said he didn’t receive, doesn’t constitute support. And the bylaw changes have not passed second reading, and as of now, they won’t be implemented.
During Thursday’s meeting, Coun. Iona Stoddard asked staff whether the bylaw would qualify for a public hearing at second reading.
“Council could call for a public hearing, but typically it’s not required, only second reading,” planner Kasia Tota told Stoddard.
Public hearings are automatically required for many development applications, but not for bylaw amendments like these. It is rare, but councillors can vote to hold one anyway.
Habib believes there should be a public hearing before second reading.
“People want their their outlook heard,” he said.
He’s been vindicated by the widespread outrage following first reading last week.
“We’re a staple in the city. Surprised? No. To this extent? Yes. You don’t know how much backing you have until something happens, and the people have been enormous,” he said.
He’s been getting phone calls and people coming in are asking how they can help. There’s a petition.
“Everybody is up in arms,” he said.