Councillor after councillor raised concerns Monday about a petition launched by Ward 11 Councillor and mayoral candidate Jeromy Farkas aimed at getting council to allow the owners of a Dairy Queen that burned down in 2019 to rebuild.
The fast-food restaurant at the centre of the issue was destroyed in an electrical fire in October 2019. Since then, the owners have been working toward rebuilding, however, their permit to build a replacement restaurant on the same lot was rejected by the city planning department last week.
In a Friday statement, the city said the reason behind the denial was that the proposal for the rebuild wasn’t a “like-for-like” plan for the new Dairy Queen. Instead, it proposed a slightly larger restaurant with modernizations.
“The applicant proposed changes to the previous structure and site plan which included a different configuration for the drive-thru and a modest expansion of the building.
“This then triggered the project to be evaluated against current bylaws and policies,” the city said in a series of tweets.
The city said it was committed to working with the franchisees to help them draft a plan that’s in line with the current standards.
The matter is currently before the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board (SDAB) after the rejection was appealed.
Over the weekend, an online petition from Farkas called for “Calgary city council to reconsider the development of the Shim and Gordon families to rebuild their Dairy Queen Restaurant at 1910 Centre Street N.E.”
As of Monday afternoon, nearly 2,600 people had signed the data-mining petition.
In making a motion to have the issue added to Monday’s council agenda as an “urgent” matter, Farkas said he’d reached out to city administration to learn what could be done on behalf of the city to see the rebuild go forward, and wanted to have the detailed information released publicly.
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“I would ask council’s consideration to have an urgent item of business to be added to our agenda. This item would be to receive more information and update on this file and further clarity on what council can and cannot do or say at this time regarding this matter,” Farkas said.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi was the first to oppose the suggestion, calling it a “very, very, very bad idea.”
“When something is before a quasi-judicial body, for politicians to weigh in with their opinions at this point is bad to begin with,” he said, adding that interfering with the work of the Subdivision and Development Appeal board is a “terrible idea.”
Councillor Druh Farrell said that by Farkas getting involved and making his opinion on the matter known, and trying to gain support in opposition of the city’s decision, was “politicizing a planning issue.”
“If this comes to council as a change of land use, which is what the planners had advised the applicants to do if they wanted to change their plans significantly, then we need to keep an open mind for that.
“And so I will not support this being on on the agenda today,” she said.
Councillor Jyoti Gondek, who is also running for mayor, questioned whether Farkas’ personal involvement with the issue should be looked at by the integrity commissioner or the city’s legal department.
“I’d also like some clarity on what our oath of office and code of conduct dictates in this type of situation.
“This is not the first time we have been publicly speculating on something that we are not supposed to be discussing in that manner,” Gondek said.
Gondek added she wants Calgarians to clearly understand why councillors who have taken an oath of office are not supposed to weigh in on issues like the Dairy Queen permit.
Heather Lowen, ethics advisor with the city, said there could be legal implications to council getting involved with an issue before a quasi-judicial board, as council has the power of appointment of members on the SDAB.
“From that perspective, my advice to council has always been: do not get involved because there is a risk that the board’s decision could be legally tainted because of council’s power of appointment with respect to that board.”
Lowen also stressed the importance of council keeping “an open mind” if land-use matters do come before council.
Farkas eventually asked to withdraw his motion to have the matter heard as an urgent item on Monday’s agenda, and it was determined that all of the information that had been provided to Farkas on the weekend was either publicly available or had been sent to council in a memo last week.