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‘No walk-in traffic’: Vancouver business owner frustrated by crime, red tape – BC

A Vancouver business owner is sharing his frustrations with crime in the downtown core and with municipal red tape, both hindering his hair salon’s expansion, he told Global News.

Since Thom Robins opened the thom salon on West Pender Street four years ago, it has been broken into multiple times, he said, and the property has been vandalized. Bars now cover the windows, and some staff have quit, he added.

“Obviously the substance abuse and mental health issues here are very apparent. We’re all aware of them and we do what we can to help out where we can,” Robins said. “We get no walk-in traffic … this area should be a vibrant community. We should get people coming in, buying retail, inquiring for haircuts.”

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Crime isn’t the only challenge.

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Robins recently opened Beau Salon in Yaletown, but it took a full year, a holdup that took place within the city planning office, he said.

Last fall, the business owner voted for Mayor Ken Sim, under the impression that permit times would shorten under ABC Vancouver’s leadership.

“It still took over eight weeks to get a simple electrical and plumbing permit,” Robins said. “We didn’t move walls, we didn’t change structurally — we just wanted to put in some sinks and some lights. That then sets us back. It sets the contractors back. You know, we have a hefty rent bill in Yaletown … It shouldn’t be this complicated.”

Robins said he’s now playing catchup more than $30,000 in rent, a situation that could have been avoided through timely permitting. He also lamented the high cost of all the permits required to own and operate a business.

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By email, Sim said the city is working daily to remove barriers and empower entrepreneurs and business owners.

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“We welcome input from those in the business community on the challenges they face, and how we can better optimize regulations and approvals to unlock the potential of countless business owners and job creators in our city,” Sim said. “We are absolutely committed to addressing those concerns and making sure people know our city – Vancouver – is open for business.”

In its own emailed statement, the City of Vancouver said it has taken “substantial steps” in the past year to improve licensing and permitting for businesses, launching an online system for commercial and out-of-town businesses, for example.

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Mayor and council also recently approved a streamlining of the municipality’s business licensing bylaw, “reducing nearly 600 license types to 88,” the city said in an emailed statement.

“The City is also actively working to streamline engineering review requirements in all development permit applications, including removing 20 per cent of conditions and moving an additional 25 per cent to risk-based review,” it wrote.

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The municipality is launching new digital tools called the Project Requirement Exploration Tool and eComply as well. The first will allow applicants to explore regulations and requirements associated with a project to help determine feasibility, costs, and timelines before submitting an application, while the second will allow them to upload and check project designs to ensure they comply with regulations.

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Neil Wyles, executive director of the Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Association, said Robins story is all too familiar, but he thinks the city is making progress on cutting back red tape.

“I don’t think it ever happens fast enough, especially when you’re cutting a cheque for rent,” he said. “I think the more often we show them that something is broken, outdated — time has moved on in this particular issue — it gives them an opportunity to react and start dealing with those things.”

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Wyles said it’s especially difficult to get a business started, but once it’s running, in his experience, things tend to operate “fairly smoothly.”

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