02/19/2014 05:35 EST | Updated 04/21/2014 05:59 EDT

Smokers Causing Tension at 6th and Commercial

Tension is brewing at the corner of 6th and Commercial Drive.

The busy JJ Bean cafe attracts coffee drinkers — and smokers — from all over the city. It's also attracted complaints from some 6th Avenue neighbours who say the traffic generated by the cafe's patio makes them feel unsafe.

"It's our busiest store and it attracts a ton of customers," says John Neate, the owner of JJ Bean. "We have a particular group of clientele who have been coming here for 17 years, many of African or Jamaican origin. They love this place, they protect this place, and I have a great relationship with them. But they do like to smoke and that smoking causes tension."

Neighbours have complained about pot smoking and loitering. Neate says people accumulate on the sidewalk, around the parking lot and across the street at the Canada Post office, because cafe staff have asked customers not to smoke on the patio.

"That causes issues with our neighbours just from the number of people who are gathered around and people feeling unprotected walking through large groups of people."

Some residents have made complaints to the police and to the city about activity on the corner. A recently flurry of debate about the corner has erupted on neighbourhood email groups, and a community meeting with local stakeholders has been called for February 19.

Neighbourhood divided

Not everyone in the neighbourhood agrees there's an issue. "I have never experienced it as being threatening or a problem," says longtime 6th Avenue resident Stephen Kiery, who recognizes that opinions are divided.

"I am sensitive to the concerns of some of the other neighbours, especially of women are alone walking through there, but there has never been an act of aggression that I'm aware of, and I find most of the people there very relaxed or friendly."

Amanda Oliver is another local resident who frequents the cafe. "I actually feel really safe here." says Oliver who doesn't plan to attend the meeting, but understands why people might want to.

"I also think this is what gives Commercial Drive it's character and it's life, and that's ultimately what drew us to want to live here. And if you take some of these characters away, I think something is lost as well."

Patio regular Mike Abadi does plan to attend the meeting. He immigrated to Canada from Ethiopia and says he's found a community here that doesn't exist elsewhere in the city.

"This is my second home, this is the only place I socialize. I met a lot of beautiful, great people here."

He plans to attend the community meeting in hopes of easing tensions with some of the neighbours.

"They don't know us, and we don't know them. It's better to get to know each other and solve these things."

When asked about community concerns about drug dealing on the corner, Abadi says, "we chase those people out of here."

John Neate confirms that there was an issue with drug dealing on the patio in years past, but customers like Abadi have helped to keep that element away, and for that he is grateful.

Grandview-Woodlands Community Policing Centre Coordinator Adrian Archambault confirms that recent police investigations have found no evidence of drug dealing. Archambault will moderate the meeting.

"I hope everyone gets an opportunity to express their point of view, and also some solutions, and more importantly, what they would see as a useful resolution," he says. "It may just be a process of people meeting people to feel safer."

The meeting starts at 6:30 pm at the Britannia Learning Centre. JJ Bean, Canada Post and, the City of Vancouver have been invited. All residents are welcome to attend.​