Independent Councillor Brenda Locke says she’s scratching her head trying to understand why a majority of Surrey council is seemingly in favour of zoning changes that would make it easier for private liquor stores to set up shop in the city.
“This will not make Surrey safer,” Locke told the Now-Leader. “I think it is an unwise decision, to not control the number of liquor licenses more aggressively than we are.”
City staff recommended against the move in a report earlier this year but during Monday’s council meeting, the four Safe Surrey councillors and McCallum gave an early nod to the amendments, which will now be subject to a public hearing on Oct. 21 before the move can be approved.
Locke said the idea is puzzling to her seeing as the Safe Surrey Coalition has taken a prohibitionist approach to cannabis, not allowing any such stores to open in the city.
“It seems counter intuitive on one hand saying we don’t want cannabis retail in our city and on the other hand we’re going to increase the number of liquor licenses,” she said. “I’m not supportive of it at all.”
Locke noted she was the executive director of the BC Liquor Retailers Association for 15 years.
“I know this file,” she said. “Surrey has more liquor licenses than any other city, per capita, in B.C. We’re well resourced when it comes to liquor outlets. This is an inappropriate decision for the city.”
Further, Locke said she has no idea what the impetus was.
“It came right out of the blue. It makes no sense to me at all,” she remarked. “I can’t for the life of me understand any good reason to do it. You don’t need to increase access to alcohol.”
Councillors Steven Pettigrew, Jack Hundial and Locke spoke against the idea in council chambers Monday night.
Hundial raised public safety concerns.
Pettigrew said “this is probably one of the worst decisions that the city could make” noting staff was “very strong” in advising against it.
“If this change goes ahead, the local communities will be shut out of the rezoning process and not be allowed to have the same input as they had before. They’ll have no public engagement that talks about liquor stores coming to the neighbourhood,” Pettigrew added.
Councillor Mandeep Nagra of the Safe Surrey Coalition told the Now-Leader Tuesday morning that he put the idea forward.
“How I see it, it’s just going to create more business opportunities for the residents of Surrey. In the election campaign we said that we want to build a community where people live, work and have their own business and raise their families and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” he said.
“Also, this is going to create hundreds of more jobs as well.”
Nagra said along Scott Road, from 64th Avenue to 96th Avenue, there are six private liquor stores on the Delta side, but none on the Surrey side.
“So that does mean people in Delta are consuming more alcohol than people of Surrey? No, absolutely not. It just creates more business opportunities, and we’ve removed red tape to open small businesses. At the same time, the regulations are still in place about being far away from the schools, the distance, and also residential areas and so forth. All of that is still in place.”
Nagra said Safe Surrey is treating the cannabis file differently because that industry is in its infancy.
“It’s a very new regulation,” he said of cannabis. “We said that we’re not going to do anything for at least two more years. After that, we’ll wait and see how the other municipalities are taking this and we’ll go from there.”
Councillor Laurie Guerra said even though she supported the “theory” the idea still needs to go to public hearing before it receives final approval.
“It would be irresponsible of me to say how I will vote before I’ve heard from the citizens at the council meeting,” she said.
If approved later this month, the two city zones would be amended to allow for private liquor stores to operate, specifically, the C-5 (neighbourhood commercial) and CH1 (commercial industrial) zones. Operators would still be subject to provincial approval, but would not need to go through a rezoning process at city hall and would only need to obtain a business license.
Previously, private liquor stores were only allowed in C-8 (Community Commercial) and C-15 (Town Centre Commercial) zones which allow for a neighbourhood pub and a hotel as a principal use, as well as in “select” comprehensive development zones, as endorsed by council through rezoning.
In late July, council endorsed the move, selecting “Option B” despite city staff instead recommending “Option A,” which would have retained status quo.
Staff’s rationale was that Option B “would create additional potential locations for private liquor stores throughout the city, without individual zoning applications required.” Staff note this option “would expand potential liquor stores considerably, and onto sites in the city that are not within town centres or part of a community shopping centre where they are considered to be most appropriate.”
Existing policy would still apply to private liquor stores, including that they can not be located within one kilometre of another private liquor store, or within 400 metres of a school, public children’s park/playground, library or public rec centre.