The building permit process for residential is relatively simple. The architect and interior designer (or sometimes just one of the two) collaborate to establish a set of construction drawings, which they submit to City Hall for approval and obtain the necessary building permits. For commercial, the process is a bit more involved and most often includes strict rules for the exterior, or façade, of the building. In the case of East is East, although the proprietors, Mustafa Reza and his sister Razavia Reza, obtained permission from the building owners to alter the façade of their new space a few doors down from the current Main Street staple, they did not obtain a permit from City Hall. So when the Reza's applied for occupancy, they were declined by the inspector because the exterior does not meet zoning bylaws because "materials proposed do not meet the quality and durability standards encouraged” and “the design is not consistent with the approved design of this new development,” (source) and, sadly, they did not have an approved permit.
The Reza's took to the news media to stir up their claim:
You have to wonder about a city that wants everything to have a sterile exterior of glass and metal. What's happening to East is East is the same thing that makes people fall in love with this city and then move away from this city. The community accepts with limitations, and stepping out of those limitations can prove disastrous.
The communities in Vancouver are quite rich with zeal and zest and some of them are wealthier than you'd expect and Main Street is a mix of communities. I would say that you can travel the length of Main Street and you can travel the world. Yet there are numerous store fronts around East is East that are not glass, metal or sterile. They are wooden, rich in colours, and vibrantly expressive about their community based roots, and they are authentic.
City Hall is right to request removal of the façade legally, but they are also wrong on so many other levels. I know that this city is a not a yes city, but it is not a no city either. It is a maybe city. Maybe this is the best that there is, but maybe there's something better around the corner. Maybe the beautiful, expressive, reclaimed B. C. cedar façade of the new East is East is the best one around, maybe it stands out like sore thumb around its neighbours, and maybe they didn't apply for a permit because the building owner's approved the plans, but when City Council infringes on the rights of its established business to flourish and express their culture we have a much bigger problem on our hands.
The Board of Variance will hear the Reza's appeal this month. If you support it, drop by for the best chai in the city and sign the petition. If you don't support it, pay me no attention and maybe have a chai anyway. Or maybe a roti roll.