Cannabis retailers will not be able to set up shop on Sidney’s most prominent downtown street, if council ratifies a proposed bylaw amendment now in the hands of staff.
Councillors meeting as the committee of the whole Tuesday asked staff to bring forward a bylaw amendment that would ban all cannabis retail on Beacon Avenue after they had considered and rejected Sidney’s first-ever application for a cannabis retail store. Happy Buddha Cannabis had submitted an application for a shop in the 2400-block of Beacon Avenue. The rejection of the application is not yet final and will go before council again Monday during Sidney’s regular council meeting.
Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith made the motion, which earned the support of Couns. Barbara Fallot, Terri O’Keeffe, and Chad Rintoul. Couns. Sara Duncan, Scott Garnett and Peter Wainwright voted against bringing the amendment forward.
“If we denied an application on Beacon Avenue, we need to amend the zoning bylaw to reflect that,” said McNeil-Smith, who said earlier he believed the business could succeed off Beacon Avenue. “I’m fully in support of having a cannabis retail location in Sidney.”
Garnett, however, questioned whether Sidney is sincere about having cannabis retail. Sidney’s excessively prescriptive approach is limiting available space for would-be cannabis retail, he said. “It’s head-scratching, to be honest,” he added. “Where are we going to put them?”
Staff later noted council did not have to take the path that it chose.
“It doesn’t necessarily follow that the zoning bylaw must be amended, just because you denied this one, just to be clear,” said Alison Verhagen, senior manager of current planning.
Ratification of the amendment as proposed by McNeil-Smith following a public hearing would mark a reversal on Sidney’s approach towards cannabis retail just months after council had paved the path for the sector.
Following extensive public consultations, Sidney amended its zoning bylaw in August to allow cannabis retail as “a permitted conditional use” in its downtown commercial zone including Beacon Avenue, subject to various conditions, and since the application before councillors Tuesday was the first of its kind, it also marked a test of the conditions as well as the larger application process.
Staff assessing the application found that it met every one of the conditions with the “notable exception” of its storefront design. It calls for opaque window coverings as required by the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB), but in violation of development permit guidelines for the area, which prohibit such coverings, given the prominence of Beacon Avenue as Sidney’s main shopping street.
“Staff note that this is contrary to the intent of [the development guidelines] which seeks to establish a visually interesting storefront display that supports Sidney’s retail-focused downtown,” said Corey Newcomb, senior manager of long-range planning, in his report. He later added that allowing opaque window coverings for one location could set a precedent undermining Sidney’s goal of retaining “active and transparent” storefronts along Beacon Avenue, a point echoed by McNeil-Smith.
Staff recommended cannabis retail locations facing Beacon Avenue be set back at least 15 metres in an attempt to save the application, but staff acknowledged this condition would limit cannabis retail to stretches of Beacon Avenue with less foot traffic and several attempts to find a working compromise either failed to get on the floor or not enough support.
The question of how cannabis retail stores would align with Sidney’s desire for “active and transparent” storefronts along Beacon Avenue has prompted major discussions during the public consultations without a final resolution, a point referenced in the report.
“Had staff been aware of the LCRB’s strict interpretation of the relevant regulation at time of the [cannabis retail bylaw’s] introduction and consideration, the recommendation on whether or not to allow cannabis retail along Beacon Avenue may have been different,” said Newcomb. Given this “new clarity,” Sidney could remove the requirement for an “active and transparent” storefront, a proposal that never gained sufficient support among councillors.
Duncan and Wainwright said this clash between provincial requirements and municipal guidelines was predictable.
O’Keeffe, meanwhile, urged Sidney to create clarity. “It don’t think it is fair to leave them hanging, to think which way is the wind going to blow on any particular day at council,” she said. “Whatever we do here, has to be clear.”
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