Carbonear's Water Street is dire need of a reinvention, says writer

Published on January 23, 2014
letter to editor

Recently, I have applied to council for approval to convert a portion of my building, the former Knot Coffee Shop & Café on Water Street, from a complete commercial presence to include a residential component.

By Dean Penney

Recently, I have applied to council for approval to convert a portion of my building, the former Knot Coffee Shop & Café on Water Street, from a complete commercial presence to include a residential component.

I have closed my coffee shop due to it not meeting my financials, and in particular the poor economics of operating in the downtown district of Carbonear.

There's no doubt our town is prospering. However, Water Street is a completely different story. There are just as many vacant buildings as there are businesses, maybe even more.

From boarded up businesses, dilapidated historic structures to the numerous potholes and obstructions, Water Street has become a very challenging area to navigate, let alone trying to do business.

In my letter application I write: “If one does not have to go downtown, then you don’t go downtown." It has become a thoroughfare for transiting from one area to another, with a few minor stops in between, except a permanent stop a Noel’s Funeral Home.

Wishing to diversify

As most are aware, I operate E & S Diving Services/Island Charter Tours. I offer diving/boating safety courses and boat tours during the tourism season.

My application to council was to have my office/workshop located in the basement of my building, and to convert the main and upper level of my building to include a residential component. The residential component would offset my financials so that I could maximize the building as a whole. This was primarily due to the minimum space I have available at my disposal, yet all the while maintaining a business presence there, albeit in basement level of my building. It makes complete sense, both logistically and economically, and I would still continue to contribute something to the downtown.

In a Dec. 18 letter from the town, my application was denied. Here is a portion of that letter:

“The objective for this area, as outlined in the Municipal Plan, is to preserve and enhance the vitality and viability of the downtown as the economic, historic, social and cultural centre of Carbonear and maximize its economic potential as a tourism resource. The policy states that this can be only done through careful management of new development. It is the opinion of council that approving the change of any further commercial properties to residential located at the main street level will be in contravention of these objectives and policies."

I agree, in part, that my business component is not street level, but my presence is not some fabrication of existence like other vacant buildings on the Street.

If my business does not conform to the above statement, then I don’t know what does?

These questions need to be answered: Does Water Street now live up to that statement? Or is the statement and council’s decision a contradiction of that statement?

A double-standard?

That being said, I have to wonder how some owners managed to have their buildings converted to residential without any business component present, or rather be permitted to have a vacant, street level, non-operational business without as much as displayed signage indicating commercial space available for rent or lease.

It seems the precedence is this: regardless of whether or not you plan to operate a business there, as long as you have Water Street level business space available, more than likely you will be permitted a residential component based upon the objectives and policies stated in the Municipal Plan.

This may seem that I may have a sour taste in his mouth; maybe so, in part. But all one has to do is walk down Water Street and formulate your own thoughts. Is the former Easy Save building still there? And that is only one sorrowful reminder.

I believe in committees and the tireless work they do, but one has to wonder who influences who, or who has the last word?

Maybe council and committees should revisit their decision-making sometimes in that the Municipal Plan is more or less to be used as a “guideline” and not chiseled in stone. If the latter is the case then Water Street will always and forever be more behind the eight ball.

I consider Water Street a lost and forgotten area of our town, forever in the shadows of our thriving commercial district located in the west end.

With no improvement or a reinvention of Water Street, then our major impact or footprint on the tourism map will be as a drive-thru area with no overnight stay.

— Dean Penney writes from Carbonear