The Black Duck Inn recently had its patio license revoked after the owners couldn’t come to a resolution with the town over compliance issues related to the outdoor cafe requirements. TOWERPHOTO
SACKVILLE, N.B. – A much-loved café in downtown Sackville closed its doors last week after town council voted to revoke its patio license – a move that seemed to be the last straw for the young owners of Black Duck Inn who only opened their business last year.
Alan Barbour and Sarah Evans said they decided to “re-evaluate” running their coffee shop in Sackville after they could not come to a satisfactory resolution with the town, admitting they are frustrated by what they see as a lack of support for budding entrepreneurs.
“Running a small business, especially a café that is open seven days a week, demands a lot of time and hard work,” said Barbour.
He said it become even more challenging when you’re made to feel the council and staff are “not only unhelpful but actively working against our best efforts.”
“Dealing with the patio issue over the last three weeks has been especially frustrating and exhausting.”
Barbour said he and Evans had, in fact, decided on Monday before the town council meeting to shut down the café – at least temporarily – and take a break for some much-needed rest and to rethink their current plans. A sign in the window of the establishment last week reflected their decision at the time, however a new notice has been posted in its place indicating they plan to open again in the near future and thanking area residents for their support.
The main issue that seems to have the owners and the town at odds is with whether the business was complying properly with the requirements set out in the original sidewalk cafe plan, which was agreed upon by both parties earlier this spring.
Lori Bickford, director with the local planning commission office, said staff determined in August, after a site visit, that the patio was not properly delineated – essentially they did not put up the rope that was required to define the limits of the café and ensure a proper pedestrian walkway.
Bickford said the business owners were contacted several times and after some correspondence, did eventually put up a rope. But then during subsequent visits, other concerns were raised about several other compliance issues.
She said a site visit was to be conducted last Monday at the Black Duck coffee shop, a final check to see if the café was in compliance with their agreement, but the patio was not set up. So the planning commission made a recommendation to town council to revoke the café’s patio agreement.
Coun. Ron Aiken said he is disappointed the issue couldn’t be resolved.
“I don’t understand how it got to the point it got to,” he said, “when compliance seemed to be a matter of putting up 10 feet of rope.”
Barbour admits he did question whether a delineating rope was necessary when first asked by the planning commission to install one in August. By that time, the patio had already been out for four months and supervised by Black Duck staff without incident. He said the rope was more of an impediment than a safety feature.
The owners finally agreed to install a rope, which they did the week of Aug. 19. They let the planning commission know they were now in compliance. But about two weeks later, they learned that several other issues had been brought forward –issues that related to the site plan they had submitted in the spring, when the business owners had hoped to also open the neighbouring storefront and proposed to set out patio furniture there as well.
Barbour said although they had made several efforts to comply, by the first week of September they still felt they were no closer to an agreement with the town and they decided to remove all their patio furniture from the café on Sept. 6.
Coun. Bill Evans, who was one of two councillors to vote against revoking the café’s license, said he is troubled by the way this situation has been handled.
“This has taken far too long,” he said.
Evans said both parties seemed to have conflicting viewpoints when interpreting the site plan but he believes that negotiations could have continued until a resolution was found.
Coun. Margaret Tusz-King, who also voted against the motion to take away the Black Duck Inn’s patio license, agreed with Evans.
“It’s unfortunate it’s gotten to this hitch of conflict,” she said.
But Coun. Mike Tower said the owners have had several opportunities to comply with the proper requirements, including the final site visit which was to happen last Monday.
Tower said the other sidewalk cafes on Bridge Street are following the proper guidelines and there shouldn’t be exceptions given.
“To run a business on our sidewalk is a privilege,” he said.
Coun. Joyce O’Neil said although the Black Duck Inn is certainly a welcome business in the community, any business that is granted permission to operate an outdoor patio is expected to follow the terms and conditions set out in the town’s sidewalk cafe operating procedures.
“We’re opening a can of worms if we let this one go,” she said.