Location became the main road block for a cannabis retail outlet in Williams Lake’s downtown core that was narrowly rejected by city council at its regular meeting Tuesday.
Earth to Sky Cannabis, formerly named Flora, applied to build a cannabis store at the corner of Second Avenue North and Barnard Street in part of the building housing End of the Roll.
Councillors Sheila Boehm, Marnie Brenner and Craig Smith voted against referring the application to the BC Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch for final approval, citing its close proximity to the Salvation Army and traffic congestion as main concerns.
Brenner said elected officials have a responsibility to look after vulnerable populations in the community.
“It’s not the issue of what the business looks like inside, it’s an issue that the business is going to attract people who can spend more money and therefore attract a certain type of person who will try and ask them for money,” Brenner said, noting she feared an increase in panhandling in Williams Lake.
Smith said he had nothing against the company, but the location was a “huge” issue.
“This is the time where we are crafting where we want these types of businesses to be in our community,” Smith said. “We really need to put these businesses where they will thrive and be an asset to the community.”
Boehm said having a cannabis store there would add to existing traffic and parking congestion problems, adding she was also worried about youth walking by the store en route to the public library or the toy store.
Councillors Jason Ryll and Ivan Bonnell voted in favour of the application.
“Council should be doing everything it can to support commercial development,” Bonnell said. “I’m struggling with how we are making a decision to prohibit a legitimate business that wants to invest in our community based upon what a patron may or may not do in relationship to the law.”
Ryll said he agreed with Bonnell.
“Yes, business owners do have responsibility to the community at large, but if we look at it from a business development perspective, at what point does government impede business growth and development?”
Sean Bruce-Hayes, project manager for Earth to Sky, told the Tribune he was disappointed in council’s decision.
“If we were to consider every potential problem or every potential sensitive area we wouldn’t be able to find a spot to locate,” Bruce-Hayes said Wednesday. “When we are talking about potential fears and potential problems we need to look at the operator. In this case we have an operator that is very willing, and has a track record of working with communities to find solutions.”
Bruce-Hayes confirmed they would probably not consider another location in Williams Lake.
“We already invested a lot of money to get where we were at and have been told “no” based on potential fears,” he said. “The official community plan’s vision for downtown is completely opposite to how council voted last night.”
During the council meeting several members of the public spoke against the application.
Roy Buxbaum, whose cannabis retail outlet proposed for the 200 block of Mackenzie Avenue South has been approved by council and the RCMP, asked if city council “really wanted to be that council in Canada that does a variance to a bylaw to allow a dispensary to be on the same block as the Salvation Army? You are going to have people asking for a handout outside the CIBC, asking for handouts outside the TD Bank.”
Paul French, representing the United Steelworkers Union Local 1-2017 whose hall is located in the 100 block of Second Avenue North, said his main concern was traffic and parking.
“The liquor store used to be where the Salvation Army is now,” French said. “It had a parking lot and it was still an issue. This store will not be providing parking.”
Hodgson Road resident Cecile James questioned the necessity of a cannabis shop in the downtown core.
“Do you think people are going to wait to walk back home before they smoke whatever it is that they get?” James said.
Council did approve a variance application from Earth to Sky to reduce the minimum distance of 500 metres from another cannabis retail outlet to 460 metres.
Brenner, Ryll and Bonnell voted in favour, while Boehm and Smith voted against.
Aryon Holding Corporation’s application for a minimum distance variance to open a cannabis store at 68 Broadway Ave. North was approved to be located 170 metres from Boitanio Mall where a government cannabis retail outlet has been approved.
Council voted unanimously in favour of sending Aryon’s application to the BC Liquor and Cannabis Control Branch (BCLCCB) and RCMP for final approval.
An application from Pacificana for a proposed cannabis retail outlet at 3015 Mackenzie Ave. North was also unanimously approved and will go to the BCLCCB for final approval.
Coun. Scott Nelson removed himself from the meeting during the deliberation of all cannabis retail items on the agenda, declaring a potential conflict of interest because he owns the building at 68 Broadway Avenue North.