News / Ottawa

Neighbourhood nemesis shutting me down: Gallery owner

The owner of a Hintonburg art gallery is worried: he thinks the anonymous neighbour who has launched dozens of bylaw complaints against him may finally have found a way to shut him down.

The Patrick John Mills Contemporary Fine Art Gallery, located in Mills' house in Hintonburg, is closed this weekend because bylaw officials have told him his home business should be zoned commercial instead of residential.

"Actually it is my home," said Mills Thursday. "This is where I live. I have hundreds of paintings and I love art."

Paintings cover all of the wall space in the three-storey house, including in the bathroom, and he has built a sculpture garden in the backyard.

"If I had to zone it commercially, that's going to squash me," he said.

A commercial designation would mean higher property taxes, commercial mortgage rate and about $100,000 of fire-code retrofits, he said.

Zoning is an issue because Mills holds events — art parties, artists talks and opening s— that are attended by between a dozen to 200 people. The events are open for free to neighbours and are over before 11 p.m., he said.

However, the bylaws for a "home-based business" don't allow him to serve more than one "client or customer" at a time.

"This is where I live. Am I allowed to have people over and have an art party? Am I allowed to invite people over into my living room and have people dance?" he asked.

Mills says the art events do drive business to the gallery, but they are primarily for building community.

"A real art gallery isn't a commercial space, it's a place where thinking happens and creative individuals congregate and come together to share ideas," he said.

Mills doesn't know who lodged the complaint, but believes it's the same person who has been calling bylaw on him regularly since he opened the gallery four years ago.

"Any time people complain the city is obligated to investigate," he said. "It's their job to do their job."

Officials from with Electrical Safety Authority, Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, the police and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario have been called to his house in the last four years over complaints, but found nothing wrong, he said.

Mills did have to move a play structure farther back from the property line and was once almost fined for the alleged improper use of an A-frame sign.

"Why are these things so complaint driven? Why is it this person who is complaining can literally harass the living hell out a person?" he said.

Mills believes the person who has been calling bylaw officers is also responsible for tearing up his posters and dumping them on his front lawn.

Four years ago, he was printing expensive, colourful, prints of his work and putting up the posters around Hintonburg. After many were torn down he eventually realized he could save money and get his message out with cheap black and white posters that use eye-catching words: "I love you," "I killed the Group of Seven," "Naked Naked Naked," and "Pretty Ugly Art."

Ironically, the attention-grabbing posters served to make his gallery more popular, increasing the turnout at his events from nearly nothing to up to 200.

"Some people are just toxic f---ing individuals and I have one of those in my neighbourhood. And they've found a way to go the right government body and shut me down," he said.

Mills is scheduled to meet with city officials on Monday, along with councillor Katherine Hobbs and his supporters: members of the Hintonburg Community Association, the Hintonburg Economic Development Committee and the Wellington West Business Improvement Area.

Mills said he will be "extra vigilant" about noise and respectful of the community if city officials let him keep running the art gallery in his home.

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