A Bosnian family now living in St. John's has had its dream of turning a former biker clubhouse into a family restaurant dashed because the city says it's against zoning regulations.

"We have to abide by our own rules and regulations," said Coun. Art Puddister, chair of the planning committee. "We do not have the ability to start running the city with our heart. We have to run it with our head."

At issue is the future of the Sports Bar on Boncloddy Street in the downtown area. The bar was one of the first watering holes in the city. When it closed in 2014, the Vikings motorcycle club moved in until police moved them out in September 2016.

Art Puddister

Coun. Art Puddister, who chairs the city's planning committee, says legal advisors told him Friday that the city could be sued if it doesn't enforce its rules. (CBC)

The new owner, Eldin Husic, was set to reopen the building as a Balkan-style restaurant, with his family living on the top floors, but those plans were grounded Thursday when the city told him the area is zoned residential.

"Had I known, I would have not bought the property, obviously ... This is definitely a bummer for everyone involved," Husic told CBC News on Friday, saying he hoped the city would reconsider.

"This place would add colour and happiness to this neighbourhood," he said.  "I believe it is a cultural asset and from a logistical, technical point of view as well, it would be financially impossible to turn it into a residential property."

No one noticed

Puddister said the Sports Bar building was given what's called a non-conforming use exemption from the residential zoning of the neighbourhood for decades.

But the exemption lapsed because the property had not operated as a commercial business for three years.

According to Puddister, Boncloddy Street residents had issues when the Sports Bar was operating and at least one neighbour has an objection to the proposed new restaurant.

"Now the residents have the law on their side," he said. "If any of the neighbours decided to take us to court my understanding is that they would be successful."

Eldin Husic and sons

Eldin Husic and his sons pose in front of the building they hope will be their home and livelihood, and says he hopes city councillors will give him a break. (CBC)

Another councillor, Dave Lane, has asked council to reconsider and the matter will be discussed Monday.

"But I wouldn't get my hopes up," said Puddister.

"I feel for this individual. I mean, it all makes sense. He wants to put a restaurant in the neighbourhood, no liquor licence, no impact on the neighbourhood. To me, it appears to be a slam dunk. Unfortunately he's after getting caught in a bit of red tape."

"It was a simple mistake," said Husic, who pointed out that no one — including the city — caught the zoning issue before he bought the Boncloddy Street property, and the exemption didn't lapse until June.

Now, he is asking council to "let it go ... rules are to be written, rewritten by people who write them."

Nathan Day, who lives next door to the Sports Bar, would like to see it become a restaurant.

"I think it would be both exciting and a nice addition to the neighbourhood," he said, adding that he's eager to try the food.

With files from Zach Goudie