Newly-passed changes to Bridgewater's land-use and planning rules put the owners of a landmark King Street business at loggerheads with the town.
Odette and Howard Van Tassel, owners of Cobbler Corner, a store specializing in footwear and custom leather work, blame the town for handcuffing a potential sale of their property because of zoning changes affecting the business location.
"I am saddened and sickened by the way small independent family businesses get treated," Cobbler Corner posted on a social media platform, the day after civic politicians authorized final reading of changes to the special commercial zone. The post attracted more than 300 comments.
The town's amendments impact a total of 18 properties in town.
Upper LaHave resident Lesley Armstrong planned to move her small weaving business to a larger location, and reached an understanding with the Van Tassels to buy Cobbler Corner last year.
Armstrong, who addressed town council February 22 just before the legislative changes passed, hoped the town would consider a different approach.
The new rules don't change what's permitted as-of-right in the zone, but it does amend what needs a development agreement before proceeding. To get to a development agreement - a contractual deal authorized by a vote of council - an applicant must follow a months-long process before an accord is finalized.
Many of the impacted properties, such as Cobbler Corner, abut residential neighbourhoods, and the town wanted oversight so any future development fits the character of the area.
Armstrong was uncomfortable with the prospect of extra steps of a development agreement application.
"I was ready to buy the property but now the onus is on me," she told council, noting the financing, waiting, and the risk and stress involved.
Mayor David Mitchell told Armstrong he wished the development agreement process was more streamlined, but it's a legislated step with set timelines.
In business for more than 40 years, the owners of Cobbler Corner accused the town of preventing their business sale. "The sad part is that there is no one from the town that even seems to care," reads part of the February 23 message posted online.
Mitchell disputes the business owners' claims concerning both the sale and as to who cares.
"As I noted, the past zoning didn't allow for a change of use and so we worked to change the bylaw to accommodate this for you," the mayor replied to Cobbler Corner's online post. "You could have and still can sell to whomever you choose and while the zoning would still have needed to be changed, nothing from our end would have prevented that sale to someone else."
Mitchell also added, "to suggest that nobody cared is misleading." The mayor said the town "worked hard through the legal process we are required to go through for several months to change the bylaw to help."
Meanwhile, the business thanked supporters for their interest, and advised, "we are still open and as excited as ever to service you and your repair or footwear needs."