Primo’s Mexican Grill co-owner Joel Villanueva holds the flag he was told to remove from his Marine Drive restaurant. (Aaron Hinks photo)

Primo’s Mexican Grill co-owner Joel Villanueva holds the flag he was told to remove from his Marine Drive restaurant. (Aaron Hinks photo)

UPDATE: White Rock Mexican restaurant now allowed to fly both flags

The city is allowing Primo’s to amend its signage permit to incorporate both flags

White Rock mayor Darryl Walker and several councillors have expressed an interest in reviewing a bylaw that resulted in a Marine Drive restaurant being told to remove a Mexican flag from its patio.

Primo’s Mexican Grill was visited by a city bylaw officer Monday and was told to remove one of the two Mexican flags – which each measure 55 cm by 88 cm – that fly above their patio or else they would receive a violation ticket.

City communications manager Farnaz Farrokhi told Peace Arch News Monday that Bylaw 1923 only permits one flag per establishment, and the city bylaw officers visited the business after responding to a complaint made by a member of the public.

However, City of White Rock planning and development services manager Carl Johannsen told PAN Wednesday afternoon that the city is allowing Primo’s to amend its signage permit to include both flags as part of the restaurant’s sign.

“Our message out there is that if businesses need support from us, we’re only a phone call or email away. We want to be problem solvers, not problem makers… We’re not here to put roadblocks up, we want to be supportive of our businesses,” Johannsen said.

The bylaw that permits only one flag – which was enacted in 2010 and is still on the books – has sparked online conversation from some city councillors.

“This is crazy,” White Rock Coun. Christopher Trevelyan wrote on the PAN website Tuesday. “The sign bylaw is on schedule to be reviewed, but after this nonsense it has to be put right at the top of the pile.

“In my opinion, we want a vibrant, colourful Marine Drive (and City), and this is NOT how we achieve this end.”

City Coun. Scott Kristjanson left a comment on Primo’s co-owner Joel Villaneuva’s Facebook page.

“This is nuts,” Kristjanson wrote. “Will check with staff and bylaws, but this certainly is not aligned with this Council’s desire to help local businesses!”

City Coun. Helen Fathers took to Twitter regarding the matter, writing “this seems crazy to me,” and the bylaw “seems a bit silly.”

Walker told PAN Tuesday that he received a number of emails from residents with “concerns and complaints” about the situation.

“When we ran for council, there were a lot of comments made around red tape and bylaws. I think that this may be a prime example of one that we need to revisit. It seems to be the intention should not be (getting) in the way of businesses, it should be to help facilitate business,” Walker said.

While some issues may be important to some and at the same time trivial to others, Walker said that people have the right to phone or email to complain.

“I’m not sure why the first complaint would come in. I’m not sure what benefit it has to anybody,” Walker said. “There’s almost more questions than answers.”

While other businesses fly multiple flags along Marine Drive, Walker said that the enforcement of Primo’s was a reaction to the complaint.

“When we get a complaint we need to act on that and I think that’s fair,” he said.

“There are probably many more important things than worrying about a flag bylaw. But, having said that, it raised its head and now we have to deal with it.”

White Rock Business Improvement Association executive director Alex Nixon told PAN that he spoke with Primo’s, city staff and city councillors about the situation.

“Clearly the bylaw has some unintended consequences and so we need to work with the Marine Drive Task Force, city council and city staff to really evaluate this and other bylaws that are impacting businesses and try to make them more responsive to the needs of businesses,” Nixon said.

Johannsen told PAN that the city’s Marine Drive Task Force will be collecting input from the public, property owners, and businesses on the waterfront with the focus on how to maintain and enhance the character of the strip.

“Also, as you may know, the City is looking at maintaining and enhancing the ‘look, feel and character’ of Marine Drive and its businesses as part of the Waterfront Enhancement Strategy process (part of the OCP Review) and the work of the Marine Drive Task Force – key initiatives that Council brought forward as priorities late last year,” Johannsen wrote.

Primo’s general manager Samantha McQuade told PAN Tuesday that the flag bylaw enforcement is “yet another example of the lack of support that Marine Drive restaurants are receiving, which is universal to all businesses on the strip.”

McQuade made note of “selective bylaw enforcement, unsightly speculative properties, and a ridiculously drawn-out construction project.”

However, McQuade said she’s “pleased to report” that city councillors contacted the restaurant regarding the matter.

“On a happier note, we are absolutely astounded and touched by the online support from our beautiful community. This served as a reminder of why we wanted to open a restaurant in White Rock to begin with.

“Thank you to all who have reached out or spoken up in solidarity with us.”



aaron.hinks@peacearchnews.com

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