Anyone who has ever operated a small business knows how difficult it can be to survive when you’re competing against the big box multi-nationals — it’s a grind — but what gets Leaside Business Park fitness and personal training guru Kevin Charles hopping mad is when City Hall makes it even more difficult by putting in place zoning bylaws and restrictions that make it impossible to gain ground against bigger and financially stronger competition.
I originally profiled Charles, the owner of My Personal Trainer, in my October 2014 Business of Leaside column (http://leasidelife.com/the-changing-inside-face-of-the-industrial-park/) highlighting the great mix of tenants operating small businesses out of 28 Industrial St., a narrow two-storey warehouse east of Laird wedged between Kreitmaker, a concrete supplier to the north, and Apco Industries to the south.
It’s not the first place you’d think a personal trainer would set up shop but the space came with lots of free parking for his growing customer base and so it became a popular spot for Leasiders and those living in adjacent neighbourhoods in North Toronto. Charles is making it work despite the site’s obvious limitations.
Since I wrote about his business 17 months ago, it’s flourished, so much so that he recently started looking for a bigger space.
He found a spot at 89 Research Rd. that seemed promising — the old Mom’s to Be… and More satellite store — but when the owner recommended he go to City Hall to find out whether a fitness facility could be operated there, what he found was less than encouraging.
The City of Toronto’s zoning rules are found under By-Law 569-2013. Charles’ business comes under Chapter 60, subsection 20, which is designated under the rules as an Employment Industrial Zone, or E-Zone for short.
Permitted uses in this zone include a children’s dance studio, software development, kennel, financial institution along with many others. Recreational uses, such as a fitness studio, are permitted with certain conditions, the condition, in this case, being the fitness studio must be on a lot that fronts a major street on the Policy Areas Overlay Map.
Faced with having to locate on a major street, Charles undertook a search on Laird and other major streets in the area including Vanderhoof Ave., Wicksteed Ave. and Brentcliffe Rd.
One option presented to him by the Behar Group was 202 Laird Ave., a single-storey building formerly inhabited by Kaboom, the fireworks people.
On the west side of Laird and south side of Parkhurst, the building is 2,000 square feet, comes with 10 parking spaces and an additional 550 square feet in the basement.
A perfect spot, right? Wrong.
Including taxes, maintenance and insurance, the annual rent would set him back $144,000 or $72 per square foot. That’s $12,000 per month or $395 per day.
Whether he has 10 customers or no customers, each day he’s forking out almost $400 just to keep the doors open and the lights on.
So, here’s a small business person just trying to climb the next rung of success facing the city’s zoning rules, which allow for the operation of all sorts of consumer-based businesses in the E-Zone — just not a fitness facility.
“[It] Makes no sense that you can have a kids dance class in an industrial area but not have a kids karate class,” Charles told me, holding back the frustration. “If it is to protect users because of the heavy machinery, I just don’t get it.”
It’s especially nonsensical given First Capital Realty’s 2015 application with the North York Committee of Adjustment for a minor variance in order to build a two-storey LA Fitness at 11-25 Industrial St. and not too far from Charles’ studio.
The Committee of Adjustment granted the variance and although the city considered appealing the decision to the OMB, it negotiated an agreement with First Capital that precludes the company in the future from changing the use of the property from recreation to something else without obtaining a change to the city’s Official Plan.
The last time I looked that piece of land where First Capital is planning to build is not on a major street yet the Committee of Adjustment chose to ignore the report from city staff on the matter: “Policy 4.6.2 of the Official Plan states that recreational uses such as the proposed fitness centre are only permitted in Employment Areas when located on a major street as identified on Map 3. Industrial Street is not identified as a major street on Map 3.”
The agreement with the city makes this a moot point.
But that’s not why Charles is hopping mad. He’s upset because the zoning rules in the industrial area seem to have no rhyme or reason as to how they’re applied and as a result, it’s costing him money.
But, hey, who cares about the little guy?