Gander business owners claim partial victory

Strip mall outlets embroiled in longtime battle with town

Brandon Anstey
Published on April 25, 2014
Business owners in a strip mall on Airport Boulevard in Gander, including Oasis Lounge owner Melanie Hearn, have been having it out in court with the Town of Gander over who’s responsible for paying for work done on the town-owned parking lot in front of the building and the service road behind the strip. — Photo by Brandon Anstey/The Beacon

For about a decade, there has been a court feud between the Town of Gander and some businesses in a strip mall on Airport Boulevard.

rk done to the town-owned parking lot and service road located in front of and behind the mall. A number of business owners have shared frustration over paving bills, snowclearing costs, and other property enhancements on top of the property and commercial taxes they pay to the Town of Gander.

This month, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador ruled that the business owners are responsible for the parking lot in front of the strip mall, but not for the service road.

Loretta Dwyer, who owns and operates Loretta’s Flower World, has been an unofficial representative for business owners in the strip mall who disagree with the added bills. She said the court decision was a partial victory.

“I’m half pleased, and I’m half not,” she said. “It’s great that we don’t have to pay for the back of it, but I still don’t think we should have to pay for the front.”

Dwyer said there was an effort made by the town and a group of business owners to settle out of court.

“We tried reasoning with the town, but what we found is that they were very unreasonable. One of the things that started it in the beginning was the snowclearing. I don’t mind paying for the snowclearing — mine is paid for. My dispute is the parking lot out there — the paving of it, fixing holes out there continuously and billing us thousands of dollars for it. Within three weeks, it’s back to what was or worse.”

One of the biggest frustrations shared by the business owners is what their taxes are being used for, said Dwyer.

“The parking lot was paved and that’s where the big expense came from. They come in once a year to put a few stripes out there to mark the parking. As for our own garbage, we pay to have that moved. We pay business tax and property tax. Our question to the town is what our money pays for. If you’re a homeowner and they came in to do work on your street — you’re a taxpayer — you don’t get billed again. You don’t get double-dipped for it, and as far as I’m concerned, we’re getting double-dipped.

“It’s not our property,” she said. “It’s the Town of Gander’s property, and we pay taxes for it. Having to pay for it all affects our revenue, big time.”

While a number of business owners have refused to pay some of the bills, there were a few who felt like they had to, Dwyer said.

“There were a few people who did pay up on the parking lot maintenance. A couple of them were town councillors … so it didn’t look very good if they hadn’t paid the bills. Anyone selling their place was forced into paying; anyone trying to get a permit to work on their business was forced into paying.”

Melanie Hearn owns the Oasis Lounge in the strip mall. The Supreme Court decision warranted celebration, but not satisfaction, she said.

“It was a partial victory, but I’m still not satisfied,” said Hearn.

“The big issue for us is not so much the snowclearing, because I don’t think anybody really minds paying for that. The big issue for me was when they have a contractor come to do the snowclearing; we have no say in who we hire and who does it. When you’re paying $60 per hour, they should be paid by the minute. With regards to the front, the paving is a big issue that everyone had with the front parking lot. That was a bill that was almost $10,000, and that was just for my one business and me. There’s no one that can just pay that, but they did give me the option of a 10-year payment plan.”

Hearn contends changes are made with little notice to the business owners, and that’s another frustrating aspect of the ordeal.

“It wasn’t even that bad,” she said, referring to the condition of the paved parking lot in front of the strip mall.

“It didn’t even need to be done, and I have the pictures to show that it wasn’t that bad. If we had gotten together as a bloc, all the business owners in the strip mall, and decided the parking lot needed to be done over the next couple of years, you could have planned for it. They make these decisions without consulting with us, and then they just send us the bill.”

Hearn echoed Dwyer’s feelings about the taxes businesses pay.

“We pay thousands in taxes for our business every year. Where is that money going? It’s supposed to be used to pay for the snowclearing, paving and the sweeping. Obviously it’s not going towards what it’s supposed to be. I don’t mind taxes. I understand the town has things to pay for things like paving, water and sewer and snowclearing, but we feel like we’re being pushed into this us-against-them mentality.”

Dwyer said it’s unclear whether or not business owners in the strip mall will be compensated for money they paid for work on the service road. They intend to speak to their lawyer before the end of the month to determine if the decision is worth appealing.

“If we appeal, we could lose it all,” said Dwyer. “At least now we’ve halfway won.”

According to a representative of the Town of Gander, members of council won’t comment until the window of appeal closes in early May.