Few issues have proven thornier, more divisive and more difficult to manage for City council than the one-kilometre distance rule for new liquor outlets adopted last year.
Liquor is back on the table Tuesday after council agreed last month to reconsider its decision in May not to relax the rule to allow a Save-On-Foods VQA wine store at Columbia Place Mall.
Anyone hoping that the matter might finally be put to rest could be in for disappointment, though.
The situation this time has more to do with simple math than with the byzantine regulation of liquor sales.
With Mayor Peter Milobar and Coun. Arjun Singh recusing themselves from the vote (Milobar owns a liquor licence; Singh has a family tie to a neighbouring liquor retailer opposing the variance), seven councillors to voted 5-2 against the Save-On variance last time.
This time, though, Coun. Pat Wallace won’t be present, making for a closer vote even if no one changes their mind. Some are concerned it could be even closer, a tie maybe.
Wallace is visiting family back East, a trip she arranged after recovering from a fall when there was no expectation of such a close and controversial decision. She’s not sure how the vote will pan out in her absence.
“It’s going to be interesting,” she said from Ontario with a measure of understatement. “I’m still in neutral mode. I really feel badly about the way the whole issue has been handled from the beginning.”
Wallace suspects Tuesday’s reconsideration may not be the end of the saga and she’s prepared to deal with the matter if and when it comes back to council again.
“It could end as a 3-3 vote,” Wallace said.
Another of the group of five who voted against the variance is Coun. Marg Spina, who indicated she may be prepared to change her vote.
“I am going to approach the decision with an open mind,” she said.
The original application was ambiguous, referring to a store selling not only B.C. VQA wines but also spirits made from other B.C. products such as rice and honey. That, however, has been narrowed to VQA-only, Spina noted.
Coun. Denis Walsh has said he won't be changing his vote. Coun. Donovan Cavers indicated that he's prepared to reconsider his No vote.
Walsh is concerned that the matter could be left unresolved by a tied vote. The public perception from that outcome could be quite negative, he said. He was hoping to have the vote delayed for that reason, but without success.
“Logistically it is very difficult and possibly too late to move to July 26 CC meeting for a decision,” he noted in an email late last week. “Pat Wallace has been consistent in voting no, so perhaps if tied, it could still be considered a 4-3 if it were held two weeks later.”
Kamloops council is not an anomaly among B.C. municipalities in its reluctance to embrace the provincial government’s new model for grocery store wine sales, a model Victoria says is popularly demanded by consumers.
Maple Ridge city council recently passed its own one-km rule to block a grocery wine outlet, citing concerns about the potential job loss for government liquor store workers in the community.
Kamloops council has felt the blowback from popular support for grocery wine sales, along with powerful lobbies on both sides of the issue.
“To me, the province has really botched the whole thing,” Walsh said.
A Kamloops lawyer, meanwhile, has written to the City offering some pointed advice. If adopted, that could further delay a decision for another few months, one way or the other.
Dennis Coates, who represents clients within the liquor retail sector, suggests that the zoning and business licence bylaws should be amended to ensure that the Save-On outlet is restricted to B.C. VQA wines only. Save-On representatives have repeatedly reassured the City that is the case.
LOCAL RESIDENT says:
July 11, 2016 06:07pm
AGAIN...one just needs go to Kelowna & see how successfully the food truck area works off Harvey Ave. The food trucks along with BC wines available in Kelowna grocery stores are just 2 of the MANY issues that shows Kelowna councils forward thinking to new business & why our local council keeps us stuck in 1993.
ps. But council allowed chickens in urban area back yards. Can't think of anything nicer than sitting in my back yard on a 32c summer day enjoying a beer or glass of wine & listening/ smelling my neighbours chicken coupe.
Great job council in moving Kamloops forward!!!