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This Café Zoning Kerfuffle in Nova Scotia Has a Dark Side

the darkside

The Darkside Facebook photo.

A couple that opened an art gallery/coffee shop/café in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, is fighting back against city authorities after facing potentially $47,000 in fines for allegedly violating zoning bylaws.

The Darkside Gallery & Café owners Oliver and Megan Mahon are expected to argue their case in court today, after the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) notified them that they were being prosecuted for zoning violations that began with the opening of the business, which the Mahons say could result in $100-per-day fines totaling more than $47,000 that would put them out of business.

The building is zoned for residential and retail uses only, and the city’s argument is that the business is essentially selling too much coffee and food, and not enough art, according to several local news sources. The owners have never been shy about promoting the café component of the space, offering soups, sandwiches, baked goods and a coffee menu composed of batch brews and traditional espresso drinks, including a Darkside-branded Chuck Norris medium blend. The food and drink, along with numerous events such as music performances and storytellings, all work toward the goal of selling more art, much of which is supplied by local and regional artists, they argue.

The couple says it has been working with the building’s landlord and the city for the past year to try to iron out an agreement that would allow them to continue to operate in the existing space in North Dartmouth, which is not zoned for restaurant use.

“We cannot understand why the city has chosen to go after a small business such as ours,” the Mahons said on social media prior to the court hearing. “In a province that is trying to grow its economy and reduce red tape, HRM continues to create bureaucracy and foster an anti-small business environment.

“We came from outside Nova Scotia, brought our savings, our hopes and our dreams here and decided to invest ourselves in North Dartmouth. We bought a house, started our family and decided to open a small art gallery and café in a neighbourhood that is slowly improving.”

The Mahons further stated their belief that the business is being targeted by municipal staffers, saying disclosures from court documents provided by the municipal authority do not cite outside complaints from citizens or neighboring residents.

“This malicious prosecution has been driven by the staff of the city, whose salaries we all pay with our taxes and whose job it is supposed to be to improve the city we live in,” they said. “One staff member even emailed that they should ‘throw the book’ at us. This is despite the fact that we have been told by the city that they believe that our presence in the neighbourhood is a good thing.”

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