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Business owner complains to council about red tape
Coquitlam's mayor apologized to a long-time business owner and her family this week after they said they were forced to jump through numerous bureaucratic hoops to reconstruct their building.
Mayor Richard Stewart told Mary Ann Meegan and her family he was sorry they had to wait a year for their bid to get before city council, saying the time period was "inappropriate" especially given Meegan's standing in the community.
Last September, Meegan's insurance agency at 1060 Austin Ave. was gutted by fire, causing more than $1 million in damage. She and her family, who have been serving customers in a temporary office across the street since then, wanted to rebuild on the same site; however, because the one-storey office was constructed more than 40 years ago — before the city's zoning bylaw was in effect — it didn't meet today's building standards.
Adding to the family's challenge to rebuild was the city's newly adopted vision for Austin Heights, an aging community on the cusp of redevelopment.
City planners had asked the Meegan family to build a taller structure that would meet new growth requirements in the Neighbourhood Centre.
During Monday's public hearing on the rezoning bid, Peter Meegan told city council he and his family went back to the drawing board with the architect several times to make the new building in line with the Austin Heights Neighbourhood Plan.
Peter Meegan said he complied with every request for a new three-storey office, with six commercial tenant spaces. "We put up with a lot from the city then they changed their game," he said, singling out city planners by name who he claimed have put his family through stress and financial pressure.
City planners sat stone-faced as the mayor and councillors listened to the barrage of complaints. Council also got a tongue-lashing from Mary Ann Meegan, who shook her finger at council over how she has been treated. The fire, she said, burned her business to the ground and inconvenienced customers. "I need some help," she pleaded.
The criticism came one week after Coquitlam was named one of seven communities in B.C. as being the most open for business.
Coun. Craig Hodge said the city doesn't deserve the accolade based on the Meegan case.
"We are looking at developing Austin Heights into something that's great," he said, adding, "Your business hasn't been treated well.... I hope that from this we are going to see something great move forward here."
Coun. Brent Asmundson said the Meegans were caught between old rules and a new vision for the area.
"You have gone through hell," said Coun. Lou Sekora while Coun. Terry O'Neill praised the Meegans for "persevering" with the rebuild that he said took "notable courage" to wade through the red tape.
Meanwhile, Jim McIntyre, Coquitlam's general manager of planning and development, vowed to revisit the file to see how matters took so long and how they were dealt with by city staff.
After the public hearing, city council unanimously granted second and third reading to the rezoning application; this month, it is expected to consider fourth and final reading.