New Brunswick

'Unique' Saint John alleyway gets a reality check

A fire code clampdown on Saint John's 'Rogue Alley' has patrons worried its ambience will soon be lost.

Patrons of 'Rogue Alley' fear fire code order will kill ambience

A Discover Saint John promotional photo of 'Rogue Alley.' Many of the furnishings seen in the pedestrian alley will have to be moved as part of a provincial fire marshal's order. (Discover Saint John)

A fire code clampdown on Saint John's "Rogue Alley" has patrons worried its ambience will soon be lost.

The narrow passageway off Grannan Lane is unofficially named after a tiny coffee shop midway along its length.

The much photographed alley, off-limits to cars, has become a major uptown attraction. Small sidewalk tables, flower boxes and stringed overhead lighting add to the charm.

But an August joint visit by fire inspectors from the city and province led to an order that Rogue Coffee owners Vanessa and Mike Duncan fear could destroy the ambience of the alley and put their shop out of business.

Rogue Coffee patron Peter Rowan says, 'We can't seem to get out of our own way.' (Graham Thompson, CBC)

The inspectors' visit followed an application for an outdoor liquor licence by owners of The Public House at the head of the alley.

Citing national building and fire codes, the fire marshal's order says all tables, chairs and flower boxes in the alley are to be restricted to a four-foot (1.2-metre) strip against the wall on the east side and are to be bolted to the ground, leaving 10 feet (three metres) clear as a passageway for patrons and for apartment residents with doorways opening into the alley.

A colourful salmon sculpture installed in the centre of the walkway was ordered moved as part of the same order.

The Duncans have launched an appeal of the provincial fire marshal's decision through the Court of Queen's Bench.
The couple are declining comment, but their patrons are saying plenty.

"It's been a kind of epicentre for some of the rejuvenation that's going on here in the uptown," said Peter Rowan.

"We have a very special space here, and in some ways we can't seem to get out of our own way in the usage and development of it."

Artist Nienke Izurieta said the alley is a unique gathering place. 

She worries this would be compromised by the order pushing people who wish to socialize into the four-foot strip.

Saint John artist Nienke Izurieta says people would feel crowded under the restrictions called for by the fire marshal. (Graham Thompson, CBC)

"I think people would feel crowded," she said. "I know for myself I'd feel crowded if I had to sit, if I only had two feet to sit in."

Citing the legal challenge, Saint John fire officials are not commenting.

New Brunswick Fire Marshal Peter Lewis referred a CBC request to a communications spokesperson, who also declined comment.

About the Author

Connell Smith is a reporter with CBC in Saint John. He can be reached at 632-7726 Connell.smith@cbc.ca

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