Ottawa craft industries cheer opportunities for expansion under relaxed rules

Makerhouse
Maker House owner Gareth Davies is one of a growing number of Ottawans employed in the ‘maker’ economy. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

Small manufacturers such as craft breweries, micro-distilleries and furniture makers will soon find it easier to set up shop in busy retail districts after city council adopted a staff proposal late last month.

The plan allows small-scale manufacturing and food processing operations in areas zoned for commercial and mixed-use activities. Current bylaws restrict such businesses to industrial districts typically located in segregated business parks away from residential neighbourhoods and shopping areas.

Those rules were originally meant to contain industrial activities that were often associated with noise, pollution, smoke, odours and freight traffic, a city staff report says. But today’s light “storefront industries” are an entirely different breed, the report says.

“Businesses that start small (such as a craftsman making and selling his goods out of a single storefront) are prevented from growing or are forced to commit to a large-scale production facility in an industrial park,” it says.

The report doesn’t specify exactly which industries would fall under the new proposal, saying manufacturing “may be of food or beverage products or of other products in small quantities.”

To qualify, businesses will need to have a retail or restaurant component but will also be allowed to sell their products to other distributors. They will face strict noise and pollution restrictions, be barred from producing hazardous materials and in most cases will be limited to a floor area of 350 square metres.

“We have a growing maker culture in the city and across North America, and in strictly zoning terms, those are industrial activities,” says Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper, whose ward includes a number of microbreweries and other craft manufacturers.  

“Historically in cities, we’ve tried to keep industrial activities and commercial activities and residential activities separate. But clearly, a number of these activities don’t have the impacts of what you would traditionally think of as being industrial activities.”

Under current bylaws, for example, brewing beer is technically an industrial activity.  

Restaurants are allowed to brew beer but can only sell it on their own premises. The new zoning rules would allow restaurant-based brewers to distribute their beer to other establishments while also allowing craft breweries more leeway to set up on busy streets near pubs, eateries and other businesses.

“I think the risk of negative behaviours, the risk of impacts to the community, is really minimal,” Leiper says. “They’re competing with the behemoths of global brewing, and if we can help those local brewers, those local small businesses, to establish their brand and to build that brand loyalty, that’s a positive as far as I’m concerned.”

Leiper says the new rules would also benefit entrepreneurs such as furniture makers and custom ironworkers who’ve been relegated to industrial parks.

“It’s not manufacturing cars,” he says. “These don’t have the same impacts as what traditionally one thinks of as industrial activities.”

‘Retail climate is changing’

One of the craft breweries in the councillor’s ward, Tooth and Nail Brewing Co., is located on Irving Avenue, just off Wellington Street West.  

Though the area around the business is mostly zoned for commercial and residential uses, the brewery was allowed to set up there because the site had previously been a print shop designated for industrial purposes – an anomaly in that part of town.   

Dayna Guy, who started Tooth and Nail with her husband Matt Tweedy in 2015, says the new rules will make it much easier for other small manufacturers to establish a foothold in bustling neighbourhoods such as Hintonburg.

"Changing what we think of as our traditional main street is just a good way to go forward as cities.”

“The retail climate is changing so much,” she says. “How do you fill main streets with just typical retail stores when people are (shopping) online and shopping at big-box stores? It becomes harder and harder for lots of places to thrive. I think changing what we think of as our traditional main street is just a good way to go forward as cities.”

Fellow Hintonburg entrepreneur Gareth Davies, owner of Maker House, is also a fan of the proposal.

“The change lends itself to the hybrid business models we’re seeing come out and shared-space models, where you would take what was traditionally zoned as pure retail … and now we’re allowing people to think creatively and mix their production in with that retail space,” says Davies, who builds custom furniture such as chairs and coffee tables and sells products from 150 other craftsmen, most of them based in Ottawa.  

“It actually makes it more economically sound for producing more things closer to the end user, which is good for the local economy and the environment.”

Davies currently operates a retail outlet on Wellington Street that has five employees but makes his furniture at a workshop in nearby City Centre.

“It’s getting harder to find production space in the city as redevelopment takes place,” he says. “The City Centre building is pretty much the last bastion of urban industrial production space. That’s something that we need to cater to (in) our city zoning. There’s a huge groundswell of makers and local producers.”   

Leiper agrees, saying the city’s bylaws have fallen out of step with the times.

“Small funky bars, restaurants, businesses, markets, are one of the reasons why people want to live in neighbourhoods like Hintonburg and Westboro,” he says. “If we can ensure that the zoning is a help and not a hindrance to that, that’s a really positive direction.”

At Tooth and Nail, where loyal patrons regularly pack the 100-seat bar and restaurant, Guy says enterprises such as her brewery and Maker House boost the local economy and bring new life to neighbourhoods, adding the city should be doing all it can to help them flourish. Her business now sells its products to about 10 bars in Ottawa as well as a handful in Toronto and employs 13 people.

“The more people can see examples of (businesses) that exist and are thriving, I think it encourages that,” she says.  

“At the end of the day, the core of our business is regulars and people who live in our neighbourhood. If you have a brewery in your neighbourhood that’s making great beer, what more could you want? I think people recognize that quality that comes in stuff that’s produced really, really locally.”