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Failure to communicate 

Unexpected street closures pissing off downtown businesses

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In all relationships, communication is key. That’s especially true if the relationship is between local small business owners and the neighbouring construction projects that keep shutting down their street.

“It’s been a pretty messy spring and summer, and now fall,” says Marshall Haywood, owner of Barrington Street sex emporium Venus Envy. Haywood’s shop is right next door to the former CD Plus building, which is currently being redeveloped by Louis Reznick. That construction has largely eliminated the sidewalk out front, and also created several street closures between Sackville and Blowers Street over the last few months. Businesses on the block, like Attica, Fireworks Gallery and Venus Envy, often have 48 hours or less to deal.

“I've been finding out on Twitter,” Haywood says of how he usually hears his street will be shut down. “It’s not ideal.”

Any developer of a site that needs to close down a street is required to provide written notice to other properties that will be impacted. Halifax “ideally” likes that to happen 48 hours before work commences.

“Two days is what we ask, but 24 hours is what we strongly urge,” spokesperson Brendan Elliott explains.

But those rules were designed for residential areas. In busier commercial zones, 48 hours means confused customers unable to reach a fully-staffed business on a blocked-off street. The written notice is also meant to be handed directly to the property owner, but in practice is often given to whatever employee on site appears to be in charge that day. A lot can get lost in that shuffle.

“That’s not our problem,” says Elliott. “That’s up to the responsibility of the employee to make sure the appropriate people have notice.”

Haywood says the city’s being a little generous with their notification estimates. “Two or three days notice would be fine, if it actually happened,” he says. “I think getting 48-hours notice might be okay. It just seems that in some cases, people didn’t even get that. Just, on a Friday, FYI, Barrington Street will be closed on Saturday.”

There’s been almost 50 construction-related street closures in HRM over the last four months. During the same period last year there weren’t even 20. Back in August, Inkwell Boutique and Applehead Studios were surprised to learn their block of Market Street would be closed for two weeks to accommodate Nova Centre construction. Inkwell owner Andrea Rahal said at the time she only found out through social media.

“We were under the impression the contractor would notify them, and they were supposed to,” HRM spokesperson Jennifer Stairs told The Coast in August. “We totally agree a couple business days is not enough notice.”

Brendan Elliott says there’s no hard and fast rule if a developer fails to deliver proper notice to businesses affected by their construction work.

“The bylaws are silent. We don’t have a penalty in place if they don’t do it...It’s our expectation that they would deliver on these.”

City council could look into amending the bylaws—requiring a longer notification period in commercial areas as opposed to residential zones. Elliott says that’s certainly within council’s power, but there hasn’t yet been any strong concerns brought forward by community members for such a thing to happen.

So for now, at least, Venus Envy seems willing to grin and bear it.

“There’s not much to be done about it,” Haywood says. “It’s great there’s more construction happening downtown. It’ll ultimately be good for the downtown, but in the interim...”

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