After this coming Friday, Sept. 16, Chill Spot Bar and Grill, a popular restaurant and entertainment venue in Arnos Vale will have to close.
The owner of the establishment, Garth Lance Oliver, told iWitness News on Friday that he plans to comply with the notice by the Ministry of Physical Planning to cease the operation.
Oliver’s restaurant has been ordered closed while similar food outlets in the area –one on either side of Chill Spot — have been allowed to continue operation — at least for now — with one reportedly being told to take its grilling inside.
The decision to close Chill Spot will see 26 employees at the restaurant losing their jobs and 10 workers at a farm that supplies the restaurant at risk of being thrown on the breadline also.
The development reflects a conflict between residential and commercial interests as the stretch of road between the Arnos Vale Roundabout and the gap to the Arnos Vale Sports Complex seem to be transforming from a residential to a commercial area.
Businesses along that stretch include several auto parts and tyre repair outlets, accounting firms, a beauty salon, a heavy hardware outlet and several restaurants, at least two of which are involved in grilling.
These businesses have sprung up in the area over the last decade and a half, even as the government’s plan to build a city at Arnos Vale following removal of the current airport, is yet to be auctioned. Construction of the Argyle International Airport, which will replace the current facility, is running five years behind schedule.
But residents have complained about smoke and noise in the area of Arnos Vale, where a recent addition has been a church, constructed near Chill Spot.
The notice to Oliver to cease his operation — which is located on the same property as his Rent & Drive auto business — is the third that he has received from the Physical Planning Board since 2014.
“History of the matter shows that to date, despite the service of the enforcement notices and refusal of planning permission for the said operation, you continue to operate the development without planning permission and have failed or neglected to comply with the requirements as set out in the enforcement notices. Additionally, the operation continues to create serious traffic, environmental and social problems for residents and road users in the area,” the Physical Planning and Development Board said in a letter served on Oliver on Sept. 2, giving him 14 days to cease the operation.
The letter, written Aug. 31, said that the operation of the restaurant violated the Town and Country Planning Act and that the Physical Planning and Development Board was not satisfied with the reasons Oliver had given in their Aug. 17 meeting regarding why he could not close the business.
Oliver told reporters on Friday that he started operating the business about 14 years ago but began receiving visits from the authorities about two years ago.
Back then, they were concerned about a trailer he had on the property, Oliver said.
He explained that someone had lent him a small trailer that he parked outside the building and was using in his food business.
The person wanted the trailer back and he got one for his food business, which was larger than the one he had been borrowing.
“While we had the small trailer, nobody (authorities) ever came and conversed with us. When we got the bigger one, they showed up. Basically, they said that we needed permission to operate the trailer.”
Oliver said he told the authorities that he did not know that permission was needed and when they visited, he asked how to go about getting permission.
“I know persons who have mobile trailers before and they never told me that they needed permission from Planning. I wasn’t aware that we needed permission, hence the fact that we did not go for permission in the first place.”
He said he got a written notice from Physical Planning some days after and he wrote appealing the decision. Physical Planning did not respond to the letter, Oliver said.
“So we thought it was ok; we continued operating,” Oliver told reporters.
He said he used to borrow tents to provide shelter on the outside of the building, and there were chairs and stools that customers would use when they are eating or mingling.
“After a while, when the rain started to come, it was bothering a lot of people because people were getting wet.”
So the establishment put up a tarpaulin outside as a temporary covering and Physical Planning wrote them again saying that they needed permission to do that.
“They said that we needed to apply to Planning for the necessary permission to operate here. We did apply when we did the building there, for commercial activity,” Oliver said in reference to the building in which Rent & Drive is located.
He, however, said that the application may not have mentioned a restaurant.
He said that around April or May, he began hearing unofficial reports that the authorities were planning to close down his restaurant.
“One day, I went into town and a guy called me saying he has friends who are on the [Physical Planning] board and they told him that they are closing me down soon,” Oliver said.
He said that he heard that the government was going to use the Public Health Department to bring its case.
But Oliver said that while he does not have a permit specifically to operate the restaurant, he said all of his workers have the requisite health certificate that allows them to prepare and sell food for consumption by the public.
Further, Oliver said, he has received several visits from health officials whose demands he has always responded to. He said these included ensuring that certain foods, such as vegetable and bread, are stored in separate coolers, and ensuring that the floor is tiled.
“Our establishment, we are very clean here; we try our best to do things the right way. This business is not a business that started off just by saying we are going to do a business. We had a business plan, the restaurant part of it. We consulted the authorities for certain things. We basically did not start the business like that,” Oliver said.
He said he was trying to get a licence from the Ministry of Health, but was told that the Planning Board, which includes a representative of the Ministry of Health, had to give the go-ahead.”
Oliver said that that the health officials had also told him to install a grease trap for wastewater, which he did.
But one of his main challenges was the smoke from the grilling, which was one reason for complaint by residents of the area.
Oliver has since moved his grill to the roof of the building. However, before then, some of his efforts to deal with the problem included the installation of non-motorised fans, which he said were ineffective.
He has since bought a heavy-duty, motorised extractor to send the smoke upwards, which was yet to install when he decided to move the grilling to his rooftop.
The businessman said that a health official had told him that if the problem of the smoke was addressed, he saw no reason why he could not continue to operate.
But the Planning Board had issued Oliver an enforcement order on Oct. 22, 2014, after it was discovered that he was operating his restaurant without the requisite permit.
“That notice requested that you cease the operations until you sought and received planning permission,” the board said in the Sept. 2 letter.
The letter further pointed out that a second notice was served on Oliver on Jan. 29, 2015 after he covered the Rent and Drive Parking Lot with a roof, without a written grant of permission from the Board.
Oliver submitted a planning application to the Physical Planning Unit on April 20, 2015, but the application was refused on June 4, 2015 for a number of reasons.
The reasons included that the development violated the required setback from the secondary road and the eastern side boundary, it was not compatible with the existing land use in the area, it was located directly along the western boundary wall of a church, and the development proposed significantly reduced valuable required parking spaces of the existing Rent and Drive development, as shown on the planning application, approved May 10, 2006.
But Oliver noted that the church was constructed after he started his operation and that there is a vacant parcel of land nearby, where his customers can park.
Oliver noted the nature of businesses in the area.
“There are other businesses, similar around here. Aqua, they had a meeting the same day that I had the meeting with Planning as well. Mr. Anderson, he mentioned to me that they told him that he has to remove the grill; stop grilling on the outside,” Oliver said of a business south of his.
“Apparently they can continue their operation inside. Based on the notice they gave us, we have to cease the business,” Oliver said.
Asked about the impact that the closure of his restaurant will have, Oliver heaved a heavy sigh then said:
“First and foremost will be all the workers who depend on this for their survival, they will be out of a job. We have directly here 26 or so and then we operate a farm to supply the business –vegetable and livestock. If this closes, we may have to discontinue that as well. About 10 [employees],” he said.
Oliver said a department store to which one of his staff had gone to enter a hire-purchase arrangement recently had contacted him to verify that the person was, in fact, one of his employees.
He noted that once someone finds a stable job, they would try to advance themselves and wondered what would become of his employees and their financial obligations once Chill Spot closes.
Oliver said that he himself has taken loans to help to finance the business.
He also noted that there will be one less entertainment venue in the country.
“I know our customers; they speak highly about the place. They are the ones who really encouraged us to bring it to this. They really like here, they said. They said it is one of the only spots in St. Vincent where they know if they come off of a plane 12 o’clock, after 11, they can get a proper meal. We offer a daily, well-balanced meal with different choices; there is the claim about the affordability of it. So, a lot of people would not be happy,” he said.
Asked if he can move the business to a different location or if the location to key to its success, Oliver said, “I believe the location and the service go hand in hand together. I don’t know — it’s not, having to close here, it’s very heart-breaking to me. At this stage, I won’t see that I would be able to come up with the urge to start another business.”