Pearl Company owner Gary Santucci admits he has made some serious enemies on Hamilton City Council; which is the reason why he has been unable to resolve a labyrinthine 9-year zoning dispute around the three story former jewellery factory he owns on Steven Street. He believes certain councillors are improperly utilizing the full regulatory and legal power of the City, not to mention its deep pockets, to punish him for his aggressive approach to the dispute. Since Santucci and his partner Barbara Milne took over the property it has become a cultural beehive in a neighbourhood that has few amenities of any kind. The building regularly hosts plays and musical events. Unlike most cultural institutions in Hamilton the Pearl Company hasn’t asked for or received any public arts funding in more than 10 years.
In the latest development in the dispute with the city, a court date was set for November 10th to hear charges of zoning violations against the Pearl Company. Santucci has become an old hand at the workings of the courts—on this zoning issue alone there have been no less than seven pre-trial sessions and one motion which originally favoured the Pearl Company but was later reversed. “There have been two undercover stings,” says Santucci, “involving eight bylaw officers. “One bylaw officer tried to entrap me on charges of bootlegging, by asking if he could buy a drink at one of our events. I told him we don’t sell alcohol, but he was welcome to go upstairs to my apartment and grab a beer from the fridge. The police were once sent here, also on a bootlegging hunt and when they arrived admitted they didn’t know exactly why they were sent.”
One local observer who is familiar with the workings of the city planning department and specifically the Santucci case, says he knows why Santucci is being singled out. “He pissed off powerful people like Bernie Morelli (late Ward 3 councillor and chair of the Hamilton Police Services Board), Tim McCabe (retired Director of Planning) and more recently he tackled Chad Collins by filing a complaint with the Integrity Commissioner related to Collin’s tenure as Chair of the Hamilton Waterfront Trust. There is no question this dispute is driven by Santucci’s enemies on council.” The source who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals says it is “unheard of to go after a citizen on a minor zoning issue like this. If it wasn’t for the political bullying staff would have likely resolved this matter long ago.” Santucci admits he has been like a dog with a bone in his dispute with the City. “They want to keep beating us into the ground, but we’ll keep fighting.”
What is confusing about the dispute is that if the current city plan (that was approved a few years ago, but not yet implemented), were to be actually put into effect; the present use of the property by the Pearl Company would be legal. The new city plan has designated the Pearl Company and surrounding area as “mixed residential-commercial.” The charges that have been laid against the Pearl Company relate to an old official plan designation that had the property zoned as residential only. It is also not clear what better use the property would be put to were the Pearl Company to be shut down. Santucci, who has also purchased and refurbished some nearby homes in the Lansdale neighbourhood as affordable rental housing, says he paying the City about $20,000 a year in property taxes—roughly $7,000 of that on the Pearl Company building . The Bay Observer has learned that on at least two occasions in recent years members of council not directly involved in the matter tried to broker an end to the dispute but were angrily rebuffed by fellow councillors. The Bay Observer attempted to get more
information on the dispute from the planning department; particularly how much public money has been spent on this file, but as of press time had not had a response.