The franchisee of a Dairy Queen on Centre Street in northeast Calgary — along with the property’s owner — are appealing a decision by the city’s planning department to reject a development permit to rebuild after the restaurant burned down.
In October 2019, the Dairy Queen was gutted by a fire, which was later determined to be an electrical fire.
The restaurant was run for six years by a Korean family that immigrated to Canada in 2001. The franchisees, Jukyun and Heesin Shim, were hoping to rebuild after the loss.
“They’ve basically put in every penny that they’ve saved up into this franchise when we started in 2013,” their son John Shim said.
“To them, this fire is every penny that they’ve saved up burning away.”
In January, the family and the property’s owner applied for a development permit to rebuild the restaurant with some modernizations.
However, the development permit was rejected by the City of Calgary after an analysis of the proposal.
“We felt blindsided by the city when they turned us down to rebuild the building,” said Sheila Gordon, the property owner’s daughter-in-law.
The denial was also a surprise to John Shim, who thought the rejection was the end of the road for rebuilding his parents’ restaurant.
“We didn’t expect anything else but just going forward with it,” he said. “So the rejection was very surprising.”
Their appeal of the decision was in front of the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board on Thursday.
According to city documents, there were several factors that contributed to the rejection of the permit, despite being “technically sound” and in compliance with how the land is currently zoned.
The site, which sits on the corner of Centre Street N. and 18 Avenue N.E., is 300 metres from a future LRT station as the area is set to be a stop on the future Green Line route.
The documents included in the appeal said the proposal to rebuild the Dairy Queen doesn’t line up with policies included in the municipal development plan.
City officials designated Centre Street has an urban main street as part of the development plan, which includes a higher concentration of jobs, urban density, residential and commercial mixed-use developments, as well as access to transit.
According to the documents, drive-thru restaurants are discouraged in the plan for Centre Street as they “detract from the pedestrian shopping environment.”
“There is no denying we’d love to see a project that is mixed, that is dense and that is urban, that may leverage the future Green Line service and help Centre Street to transform the existing auto-oriented environment… to a place that is better aligned with the vision for this main street,” City of Calgary senior planner Martin Beck said during the appeal meeting.
Beck said the planning department is “more than willing” to consider projects that are similar in nature, with the caveat that the development lines up with the practices and policies in the plan.
According to Beck, the application was considered by the planning department as a new development and not a rebuild of the restaurant.
“If approved as is, with what clearly in our opinion is an auto-oriented design use and development may not make a significant difference in the development form and fabric of this area and Centre Street,” Beck said.
“However, if we take this approach and do not try to influence the building form on a case-by-case basis, it would be very difficult for administration and Calgary as a whole to move towards the vision put in place by council.”
Terry Wong, a family friend of the Shims, said he hopes the appeal board reconsiders the city’s decision, as the Dairy Queen employed more than 20 people before the fire.
“Just because of the misfortune of somebody having their business burn down and wanting to rebuild it again, I don’t think the city’s municipal development plan should trump getting a business back,” he said.
Ultimately, the decision on what to do next with the land if the appeal is defeated will be up to the property owners. Gordon said there isn’t the ability to develop a multi-storey mixed-use building on the site, nor much interest.
“We just are not, cannot, and are not interested in developing it as the city wanted us to do,” Gordon said.
A decision from the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board on the proposal is expected in two weeks.