A seemingly benign bylaw amendment caused an outcry at a public hearing held in Cranbrook on Monday, January 21.
City of Cranbrook Zoning Amendment Bylaw 3762 was given two readings on January 7 and was set to be adopted on Jan. 21.
But the issues raised by local business owners gave the city pause, and the adoption was pushed back to allow for changes.
While most of the amendment will correct typos and clarify definitions in the zoning bylaw, one item caused alarm among business owners: the amendment would only allow shipping containers on properties in the Heavy Industrial, Transportation and Public Utility zones, and then only up to six.
Five business owners spoke out against the change, saying that shipping containers, or “sea cans”, are vital for affordable storage.
“It takes away our ability to have reasonably priced storage,” said Ken Bridge of Bridge Interiors, which has one shipping container on its property. “It takes money away from us that we put back into the community.
“Business right now is fairly tough out there. For the council to turn around and make it tougher for us, I just don’t understand.”
Jim Szakacs of Kootenay Import Auto Group said shipping containers are great because they are both affordable and portable.
“I’d like you to consider the use and allowing us to use that product because it is very important and it’s very cost effective for us,” he said.
Glen Lynn of Mister Tire said his business has eight sea cans, used to house customer’s off-season tires. Right now, they are storing 2,288 tires free of charge.
“If we had to build a building to store those tires, we wouldn’t be able to guess how much it would cost. We sure wouldn’t be able to offer this service,” said Lynn.
He suggested that instead of limiting shipping containers, the city place restrictions on the appearance of sea cans and where they are placed.
“I can understand if it’s unsightly, if they are sticking out on the street and are all rusted. I don’t have a problem with keeping them all the same colour and sightly.”
Greg Fisher, owner of Top Crop, said he wouldn’t mind following standards for the eight shipping containers he has.
“If esthetics are a concern, I’m all for having uniform standards so they don’t look like an eyesore,” he said.
But, according to Fisher, you hardly notice shipping containers around town.
“For the most part, they are hidden. If you look hard for them, you find them. But if you are driving down the strip, you might see the side of one, you might see the end of one.”
Miles Chisholm, general manager of Freightliner of Cranbrook, said his business is the largest supplier of shipping containers in the area, and he estimated that his company has delivered about 1,500 sea cans in and around Cranbrook.
“We deliver them to million dollar homes, we deliver them all over the place, and nobody knows they are there,” said Chisholm.
He estimated that almost 50 per cent of Cranbrook businesses outside the downtown core have at least one shipping container. Freightliner, which is an agent for Big Steel Box, employs one full-time staff member to handle the sea can business.
“This bylaw is very important to him, because he wouldn’t have a job with us if this goes away,” said Chisholm.
Esthetically, Chisholm said shipping containers are not only cheaper but often more attractive than a storage building.
“These look a heck of a lot better than a shed somebody slaps up in the side of the place and throws a $9 blue tarp on it and doesn’t bother putting siding up.”
According to Wayne Staudt, the City of Cranbrook’s Chief Administrative Officer, the restriction on shipping containers was actually written into the bylaw
in 2008, but he doesn’t yet know how it came about.
“That’s what we have to research. We have just started looking into that,” said Staudt, adding that this amendment was just to update the existing restriction.
“But given the information we have received over the past couple of days on this issue, we are going to revisit it. There is a lot more usage of sea cans out there right now. We have asked that the bylaw be pulled tonight so we can go and revisit it with (businesses) and come up with a regulation that works for everybody,” said Staudt.