Yarmouth food bank opens amid zoning controversy

The food bank is located in a residential zone that does not currently permit such facilities, but the town is planning to vote on rezoning the area next month.

'This fight is against the town. We support the food bank,' says resident

View of 2 Herbert St. in Yarmouth, where a food bank opened on Sept. 26. (Google Maps)

The Yarmouth Food Bank opened its doors at its new location on Herbert Street Tuesday in the midst of a zoning controversy.

The facility is located in a residential area that doesn't permit food banks, but the town's council is discussing changing the zoning to allow it.

Stephanie Eldridge lives on Huntington Street with her 91-year-old mother. The house where the family has lived for 53 years is located behind the new food bank.

Eldridge said she doesn't want the zoning in her neighbourhood to change.

"This fight is against the town," said Eldridge. "We support the food bank."

There were signs of activity outside the food bank on Monday. (Stephanie Eldridge)

The food bank is located at 2 Herbert St., just 17 metres from Eldridge's home, in a municipally owned building that once housed a Ben's Bread store 20 years ago.

It serves 700 to 800 people per month.

Eldridge said she thinks the town bent the rules by allowing the food bank to open before the neighbourhood was rezoned.

"These people are saints," Eldridge said of the food bank staff. "They know Revenue Canada has strict regulations about non-profit organizations following the law. Does it make any sense that these law-abiding people would move in and renovate almost two months before a zone change or amendment decision is made that might not go their way?"

Burned by rezoning before

Eldridge is worried about the potential impact of the food bank on her home.

The facility "effectively acts as a high-volume business that will affect half our home," Eldridge told the town in a letter. "It will create peak periods that can run to a hundred at a time."

Eldridge also noted the food bank's location would involve more trucks coming in to drop off food throughout the week, which could lead to more rats.

Ideally, Eldridge said, she would like to see the food bank in an area that's already zoned to allow it.

Eldridge said her family has been burned before by rezoning in the neighbourhood — once when a nearby restaurant got its liquor licence (the spot has since closed down) and another time when a motel was built behind their house (the motel is now an apartment complex).

The first instance, she said, led to "drunks screaming at the top of their lungs and getting into fights" near the baseball park beside her house. The motel, she said, brought up issues with "garbage control, privacy and noise."

'Everything was done above board'

The Town of Yarmouth is planning to hold a public hearing and vote on rezoning on Oct. 12.

Mayor Pam Mood said "everything was done above board" when it came to leasing the space to the food bank. She said while the town does need to let residents living within 30 metres know about rezoning directly through mail, it doesn't need to inform them about leases.

A sign at the food bank announces the opening date. (Town of Yarmouth)

"With regard to leasing the building, there was a public hearing. We ran an ad in the paper," said Mood. "We met all our legal requirements for the process."

Mood said so far only one person in the area has expressed concern about the food bank's new location.

She said the food bank will not be fined for operating in a residential zone while the application to rezone the area is being reviewed.

Food bank renovations a gamble

Mood said the town has not put money into renovating the building, but she said the food bank has been renovating the space. That's a gamble because council could vote against rezoning the area.

"If it doesn't pass, then they lose that money," Mood said. "He either loses his money or the food bank can certainly use the property for a use that is already stated or they can turn the lease back over."

"The gentleman that looks after the food bank has gone ahead and said it's supposed to be open. He's very aware of the fact that it's not a use that is OK for that spot right now," Mood said.

Bill Newell, the food bank's chair, declined to be interviewed until after council votes.

About the Author

Anjuli Patil


Anjuli Patil is a reporter and occasional video journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team.