It appears that the Sports Bar on Boncloddy Street in downtown St. John’s won’t be transformed in a liquor free, family restaurant serving Balkan cuisine after all. The grandfathered non-conforming use exception that allowed it to operate as a commercial property in a residential zone expired in June.
©Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Eldin Husic’s says his dream of opening a small, family restaurant in downtown St. John’s have been dashed due to a technicality.
“It’s something I’ve dreamed of for a long time and I finally got a chance to do it and I was a step away from it and suddenly this technicality rains on my parade,” says Husic, who originally immigrated to Canada from Bosnia Herzegovina in the late 1990s, left to teach English in Korea for 15 years and returned to the province with his wife and two young boys this summer with the intention of making St. John’s their new home.
“Flabbergasted. Devastated. Shocked. Appalled. Sad is probably the biggest one. I don’t feel angry about it at all. I just feel sad.”
Husic had purchased the former Sports Bar at 11 Boncloddy Street, an establishment with a long and sometimes contentious history. Instead of a bar, however, he and his wife Adnela Halebic-Husic planned to serve Balkan cuisine from their homeland and had no intention of acquiring a liquor licence.
An application was submitted for a change of non-conforming use in a residential neighbourhood and it was to be decided upon by council at a general meeting this coming Monday. But the application was cancelled this week when it was determined the non-conforming use that was grandfathered in to allow the Sports Bar to operate as a commercial property in a residential area had reached its three-year limit and expired in June.
“After three years, the regulations are it reverts back to the zoning of the neighbourhood, which is (residential one),” explains councillor Art Puddister, chair of the city’s planning committee.
“If they had to make the application six months ago we could consider it.”
Puddister says an “abutting property owner has been watching this quite closely,” and reminded city staff that it had reverted back to strictly residential and that staff confirmed that to be true once the regulations were examined closely.
The councillor says it’s unfortunate and he sympathizes with Husic and his family, particularly because he felt it was a good use of the property, it had the support of neighbours and it saw new immigrants adding to the fabric of the community.
Taste of the Balkans on Boncloddy in St. John's
“To be honest with you, I was cautiously optimistic this would go through council fairly quickly,” says Puddister.
Husic, for his part, says when he submitted his application in July, neither he, the previous owner, nor the city were aware of any potential issue and the property was still listed as mixed zoning.
He doesn’t blame the city for the confusion — in fact, he praises them for doing their jobs and following the letter of the law — but he hopes that they’ll reconsider and show some leniency.
“We have the ability to change our own laws, we have written them, we can rewrite them,” Husic says. “In my opinion we deserve that chance. We’re talking about a technicality. I’m not building another building there, I’m not doing anything that is not already there and shouldn’t be there.
“It is in the best interest of the city to have this as a business. It’s good for the city, it’s good for the neighbourhood, and it’s good for us, on so many levels.”
As for whether or not Husic can submit an application to have it rezoned, Puddister says it’s not possible.
“If we tried to bring in a commercial property in a residential neighbourhood, we’d be breaking our own regulations,” he says.
“We don’t rewrite the regulations for any particular individual. They’re there for everybody’s protection.”
As for Husic’s options, converting the first floor to residential space is not one of them. He predicts it will take at least $150,000 to do so.
“It’s basically for some rich person, somebody with deep pockets to go in, buy that property, change it and then flip it over for what? For $300,000 or $400,000? Who is going to pay $400,000 for a house downtown with a small backyard and no parking,” he asks.
Purchasing another property is also not an option as everything is tied up in the Boncloddy property.
While the family stays in St. John’s and eventually moves into the small apartment on the second floor, Husic himself will return to Korea in the next couple of weeks to finish out his contract at a University there.
What he’ll do when he returns remains to be seen.
“Honestly, I do not have a plan B,” he says. “This is why it’s so difficult for me. It’s something that I really want. If it doesn’t come through I have no idea what to do.”