Future unknown for Richmond Road businesses

By Alyson Queen – 

At 747 Richmond Road you can buy Polish deli meats, stop for a lunch of Thai food, have a manicure, grab a pizza for Friday night’s dinner, purchase natural supplements, find a previously loved treasure and choose custom kitchen and bathroom décor.

At least you currently can.

As a part of the proposed changes to the Confederation Line West Extension announced in March, Cleary Station will now open up directly on Richmond Road.

That will likely cause demolition of the plaza that many small businesses have called home for more than twenty years.

“I feel robbed,” says Bouasonephet Bouasy-Jung, owner of Nokham Thai. “We weren’t consulted, it was just out of the blue, out of nowhere.”

Bouasonephet Bouasy-Jung, owner of Nokham Thai. Photo by Alyson Queen
Bouasonephet Bouasy-Jung, owner of Nokham Thai. Photo by Alyson Queen

“We found out through the media and it was sold as a done deal,” says Fanya Zilberbrant, owner of ACCO Kitchen and Bath, this year’s first place award winner of best kitchen design from the National Kitchen and Bath Association.

They learned of the changes through the public announcements on March 24 and attended the public meeting on April 14.

Fanya Zilberbrant, owner of ACCO Kitchen and Bath, with her recent national award. Photo by Alyson Queen
Fanya Zilberbrant, owner of ACCO Kitchen and Bath, with her recent national award. Photo by Alyson Queen

Christina Thompson, owner of the consignment store, Treasures Anew, is leading the public opposition for her fellow tenants.

“We were all blindsided so I called my landlord and said ‘what’s cooking here?’”

The new route proposal heads under the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway before tunneling under Richmond Road on its way out to Bayshore.

It no longer cuts through the First Unitarian Congregation Church of Ottawa, who strongly opposed the original plan.

Kitchissippi Ward Councillor Jeff Leiper indicates that there are a number of reasons he thinks that the new routing is an improvement over the last proposal, including that it is “safer and poses less risk.”

From an engineering standpoint, it will avoid major water and sewer infrastructure and will also open the line on the main road, which Councillor Leiper says is important when looking at the LRT as part of a city-building exercise.

But it’s the revised placement that Fanya doesn’t fully understand, other than avoiding the Unitarian campus. “They’re moving the station 70m from the previous location. What would it matter if people walk 70m?”

She also wonders why there are two stations so close together, at both Dominion at Cleary. “It’s kind of unusual.”

Cleary Station is scheduled to be part of Stage 2 construction, which at its completion in 2023 aims to bring close to 70 per cent of the City’s population within five kilometres of rail transit.

The City is moving quickly to negotiate a sale on both 747 Richmond and a small corner of the lot at 727 Richmond in order to have the property ready for construction to start in 2018.

House of Pizza owner Gabriel Khater, located there for over 20 years, says he trusted the City to find the best LRT route for the area.

Gabriel Khater and his wife, owners of House of Pizza. Photo by Alyson Queen.
Gabriel Khater and his wife, owners of House of Pizza. Photo by Alyson Queen.

“I’m not against it 100% but I’m against the way it’s being done,” he says.

This isn’t the first time though that the tenants at 747 Richmond Road have had their future in the air. In 2013, the landlord applied for a redevelopment. But with the LRT project, that is now off the table.

“It’s tough being a small business person who is leasing a store in a property that could well be developed on a given day by the landlord who owns it. It can be sometimes tenuous if you don’t own the property you’re operating in,” said Councillor Leiper.

These are businesses that have become a part of the community and give back as well. Fanya does her part by donating much of her unsold product to Habitat for Humanity.

Right now, Gabriel is thinking of the families that could be affected by the major upheaval of an expropriation.

“There’s at least, I would say, 15 families that will be suffering if they have to relocate or close their business if they cannot find a spot.”

Despite not having been consulted to date, Councillor Leiper committed to ensuring that the tenants will be a part of the process going forward and looped into the discussions.

“It’s hard to make these trade-offs and determine what is truly in the public interest. But when I look at the various advantages, the mitigated risks to the infrastructure and then actually getting the station on Richmond Road which I think is critical – there’s winners and losers, but I think on balance this is the appropriate way to proceed.”

Although the tenants of 747 Richmond have not been formally invited to present their opposition, there is a last chance to plead their case at the finance and economic development committee meeting on May 3.

Technically speaking, the proposal is not a done deal, but it does have a number of advocates, including Councillor Leiper.

Should the plan proceed, that will kickstart an expropriation process. Councillor Leiper says that the business owners will be offered re-location services.

Moving large refrigerators, ovens and other restaurant equipment is no small feat though and has a significant price tag. So business owners like Gabriel and Bouasonephet are starting to question their futures.

If he does find a location, Gabriel figures the move will likely cost him over $100,000 and to this point he doesn’t know if the City will help compensate the costs.

“I would prefer to stay here because I have established my customers and I live from this business. I can’t afford to lose it. I have kids that want to go to university and I have to support them.”

The refrain of uncertainty is a similar thread with all of the tenants.

Despite the unknowns though, for now, Christina and others have a simple message for their customers: “it’s business as usual.”

A decision is set to take place at Council on May 11.

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