Farley Blackman, owner of Blackman Ltd., took to Facebook over the weekend to explain his decision while taking direct aim at Mayor Rachel Bailey and the town’s chief administrative officer, Bea Renton.
“(They) have created and enabled a toxic and obstructive environment at the town hall which does not align with our core values nor the values generally necessary to facilitate a diverse community, entrepreneurialism and commercial growth,” stated the post, which has since gotten more than 230 shares and prompted more than 130 comments.
“We have tried at great expense over the past several years to work through a number of barriers with limited success. Unfortunately, the mayor’s behaviour toward us — some of which has recently become public — has led us to make the values-based decision to end further investment in Lunenburg and, by default, Nova Scotia.”
Blackman, who is expected to address residents publicly at a town rally on Tuesday, said at present he’s not commenting beyond the contents of his Facebook post. Despite several attempts, Bailey could not be reached for comment.
While some reaction on Facebook was in defence of Bailey and town council, the large majority met the news with shock and anger. Blackman was in his third year of a plan to create a brewery, cidery, distillery and chocolaterie in the town, which he had hoped would provide more than 100 local jobs.
“Very sad news! Beyond sad really,” stated one post. “Over a 100 jobs! Getting a good job is one the biggest roadblocks to either staying or moving to this area!”
Anna Shoub, owner of The Hat Junkie in Lunenburg, published a post on her blog on Aug. 12, describing what appears to have been the final straw for Blackman. She quotes from a text Blackman received from Bailey on Aug 11.
“Was it a short note to thank you for the beautiful restoration?” reads Shoub’s post. “Perhaps it’s a quick email thanking you for removing the scaffolding from your other historic renovation project on Montague Street.
“But no, it’s a text stating, ‘The rest of the community is going all out to put our best face to the world but you, apparently, have other priorities.’ Now, how would you feel? Maybe like you were just punched in the gut?”
Shoub, who embarked on a successful campaign to have the town amend its municipal bylaws and building codes recently, says Blackman was never given an opportunity to develop a working relationship with council. Instead, she said, many of his issues were addressed in closed-door meetings with the mayor when they should have been brought to light in front of the entire council.
“They were private meetings that Farley has had with the mayor trying to resolve issues. Unless the mayor puts the issue on the agenda and it reaches council, council doesn’t even know there’s a problem. Anything that has reached council has been voted in favour of helping Farley.”
Shoub said the unfortunate news should prompt council to look internally to address needless red tape and other administrative mechanisms that impeded Blackman’s progress.
“There were overhead wires above a building he wanted to develop and instead of putting it on the shoulders of the business owner, because we have an aging population and we really do need economic development here, perhaps they could take responsibility as a council to share some of the costs. He was told he needed more parking space for one of his buildings that he couldn’t accommodate without losing the building. It was insane, it really was a land-use bylaw error.
“Whether council understands it or not, or feels like they’re in the right, the point is there is a problem and you’re losing one of your largest investors. You have to sit down with the entire community and start listening to people.”
Blackman, a resident of Lunenburg for more than a decade, was responsible for launching several business ventures in the town, including the restoration of the Lunenburg Opera House and the town’s historic sail loft, as well several historic homes. The company also launched Dis.cord Gallery and Studio. His Facebook post states the company will “take a measured approach to divesting our Lunenburg portfolio, while we establish our interests and brands elsewhere.”
Comedian Ron James spoke up in frustration over the news, saying Blackman’s decision was a consequence of “parochial intransigence.” The Nova Scotia-born stand-up comedian and actor had performed at the opera house earlier this month and was planning a comedy festival in the community next summer.
“This level of parochial intransigence has no place for the 21st century,” said James. “I’m a Maritimer, I love it here. I know the good work that Farley has done.
“He put two million dollars of his own money in that theatre. The locals would have been content to watch it rot. I mean, what’s that about? It was sitting there, idle. I just don’t know why he’s been stymied by (Bailey) and town council.”
A community rally is taking place Tuesday afternoon at the town hall. Local business owner Kelly-Sue O’Connor is one of the organizers of the event that’s being advertised on Facebook. O’Connor said the rally has two purposes.
“It’s basically to show that a large portion of the community supports Farley and Courtney’s vision for Lunenburg, and that we appreciate the amount of work they have put in and invested in Lunenburg,” said O’Connor.
“We want council to come to some sort of agreement with the Blackmans and keep the jobs they were providing in our community.”