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City shuts out Steveston Seafood House from boardwalk

City: Onni to make a new proposal within three months
Seafood House
Shane Dagan, owner of the Steveston Seafood House, was denied a business license at the Imperial Landing boardwalk after arguing his restaurant is a maritime use as it supports the commercial fishing industry.

A bureaucratic interpretation of the contentious “maritime mixed use zone” for the Imperial Landing development at Steveston’s boardwalk has prevented a long-established local seafood restaurant from moving into the hotly debated waterfront property.

Shane Dagan, owner of the Steveston Seafood House, said he spent a year scouting the site and had developer Onni Group set to make “significant” building improvements to lease the 4,000 square foot Unit 110 on Bayview Street for a commercial retail rate.

All that was left to do was apply for a business license.

That license was recently denied by the City of Richmond and two weeks ago Richmond city councillors again denied Dagan’s appeal under the BC Community Charter.

Dagan had argued that because 70 per cent of his food purchases are seafood his restaurant could be interpreted as a “maritime” use under the existing zoning.

According to the city the Steveston Maritime Mixed Use Zone includes the following broadly defined permitted uses: “education, housing, manufacturing, maritime, office, parking, personal service.”

Dagan contested his restaurant would be included under the “maritime” use, which is defined as anything that “primarily” supports the commercial fishing fleet.

The city has a definition of a restaurant, which the Seafood House falls in line with.

According to Glenn McLaughlin, the city’s chief license inspector, a restaurant is not a permitted use under the existing zone.

As such, councillors unanimously upheld Dagan’s denied business license application.

"I was pretty disappointed in council's decision because we felt we conformed to a tee to a mixed maritime use definition," Dagan told the Richmond News.

He said the $187,000 he spent on seafood (about a quarter of which he said came directly off Steveston’s docks) last year “clearly demonstrates” supporting the commercial fishing fleet.

“The absence of restaurants from being an expressly permitted use does not mean that its use is not permitted if it otherwise fell within the maritime definition,” Dagan argued to council.

But Joe Erceg, the city’s deputy chief administrator, told council otherwise. He then went on to explain that had Dagan moved into the site, the city would lose out on soon-to-be negotiated community amenity contributions should Unit 110 be rezoned to commercial retail.

Mayor Malcolm Brodie called it a “simple” decision to deny Dagan. Coun. Chak Au said Dagan “expanded the definition (of maritime) too far.”

Brodie said, “one could suggest” Onni was trying to circumvent the rezoning process.

Erceg said city staff discussions with Onni to rezone the property are in progress and should come before council within the next three months.

Onni built the development in 2012 under the existing zoning. Since then the company has not filled the 60,000 square-foot space, instead choosing to apply several times for rezoning to commercial retail in order to garner higher lease rates.

Since last year the company has never returned calls from the Richmond News, however its last appearance in public was May 2014 when, in an effort to rezone, it offered the city $2 million cash and a special lease rate to the city, for one building, valued at about $500,000.

Council has denied Onni at every step, claiming the amenities don't match the land lift the company will see with commercial zoning.

Brodie said he expects an “omnibus” application that would rezone the whole site.

Just before last year’s election some councillors took hard stances on the issue, with Coun. Bill McNulty stating he wouldn’t accept any commercial retail on the site no matter what Onni gave to the city. Coun. Harold Steves told the public the company was “on strike.”

On Tuesday Au said he is opposed to rezoning all of the property no matter what the city negotiates.

Also on Tuesday, McNulty said he would now have to look at any future proposal from Onni and see if it “maintains the balance in Steveston.”

He added that accepting Dagan’s proposal would prejudice any future offerings from Onni.

“You can’t put the cart before the horse,” he said.

McNulty once said putting a library on the site was a "deal breaker" but he has since changed that position as the city explores expanding the Steveston Community Centre across the street at a city-owned parking lot.

McNulty, Au and Brodie would not opine on any specific things they would like to see at Imperial Landing (such as a bank, a grocery store, a museum etc.).

Dagan said he fears that rezoning the properties will allow for large companies and chain restaurants to enter the neighbourhood.