The Bag Lady Variety might need a name change, but it looks like it will get to keep its patio.
During the Committee of Adjustment meeting on Monday (Feb. 25), members discussed an application by Jane Beattie, owner of the Bag Lady Variety, that would allow her business to continue operation as it is, including the use of an outdoor patio. The Committee of Adjustment is authorized under the Ontario Planning Act to grant minor variances from zoning bylaws, including existing non-conforming uses, such as the Bag Lady patio.
Beattie, who started her variety store and small breakfast and lunch restaurant in 2009, was informed last year her patio is located on city property and therefore would need to be removed.
With 107 supporting emails, approximately 50 supporters in attendance, and general support from the committee members themselves, it was decided Beattie should be given a year to file the proper paperwork to have the patio remain in place.
“I am overwhelmed, but feeling the love from the neighbourhood. I couldn’t ask for more really. It was very positive today,” Beattie said after the decision was announced. “I didn’t know what to expect, I never had to deal with anything like this before. But I was told the committee does take public opinion into advisement quite a bit and I knew I had a lot of support.”
Beattie erected the patio in 2010 after a number of her customers expressed interest in eating outside in the nice weather. With a neighbour donating the rod iron furniture that makes up the seating area, Beattie went ahead with the idea despite not realizing she was building on city land.
“I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong. It has been there since 2010 . . . and it just evolved into a place people just love to gather,” said Beattie, who repeatedly added she was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support she received from residents in the Woodfield area.
The Bag Lady Variety is located at 474 Pall Mall St. and is part of the Woodfield area of the downtown, a Victorian neighbourhood bordered by Richmond Street, Dundas Street, Adelaide Road and the CPR tracks to the north.
In their presentation to the committee, city planning staff supported a zoning change that would allow the business to change from a convenience store to a café — or as the information in the report suggested — a delicatessen.
Beattie said she supported this change as it “definitely fits with the operation of the Bag Lady as it is today.” She easily agreed on issues such as garbage storage and parking, but the key point of contention remained the ongoing existence of the patio area.
And while city staff recommended the patio’s removal, several members of the community made it clear the committee was discussing something much more than just an eating area.
One of the several neighbours to speak before the committee, Christine Wilton, said the Bag Lady has become the “heart of our community” and is something that should be supported by the city.
“When ReThink London was about, ‘Let’s talk about what we want our community and our neighbourhoods to be,’ well the Bag Lady is exactly what we want our neighbourhood to be,” Wilton said. “It has evolved into exactly what the community wanted.”
Wilton also said Beattie’s staff is supportive of numerous community initiatives, including fundraising for a new room on her own home.
Several speakers reflected Wilton’s sentiment with Joe Bright, who identified himself as one of the Bag Lady’s first customers, saying the business is about more than just a place to buy something to eat.
“I want to really stress this isn’t just a cool business, but is a hub to our neighbourhood,” Bright said. “I lived in my current house for a couple years prior to the Bag Lady even opening, it wasn’t until after that I actually met one of my neighbours who lives right across from me.”
Committee member Maria Mendes praised Beattie’s efforts, saying she was “obviously impressed” with the passion of the community and was eager to find out what the options were for the Bag Lady to continue its current operations. Staff said there are processes to be followed where the proper zoning can be put in place.
Colin Hendry, another committee member in full support of the application, put forward the ultimately unanimously accepted motion to give Beattie one year to file the proper paperwork necessary to move ahead.
Committee chair Steve Polhill, who said it sounded like Beattie is “operating a community centre” was not only receptive to the public comments, but also to the intent of the application.
“I would be quite frankly in just about any way, shape or form, in favour of doing anything we can to keep the patio as it is. It is pretty obvious this is a major convening area for the neighbours,” Polhill said. “We spend millions of dollars to create community centres that don’t necessarily create a sense of community and you have inadvertently have done so.”
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