The cannabis retail rezoning rules will have undergo a little tweaking in Chilliwack before any new pot store rezonings can be approved.
It was during the Aug. 20 rezoning hearing for the proposed Seed and Stone cannabis store on Lickman Road that council decided further clarification was needed on how the minimum 300-metre buffer should be measured —before voting on any further C9 applications.
First at the mike to speak at the public hearing for the proposed Lickman store was a proponent from the already-approved non-medical cannabis store expected to open at the SureStay site on Industrial Way.
“We are asking council to review and clarify how the acceptable distance was ascertained for the proposed cannabis retail location at 8050 Lickman Road,” said Beth Newton, Lickman Travel Centre controller.
In the previous C9 rezoning applications, Newton said, city officials measured the distance from the front door of a proposed location “to potentially conflicting property lines” such as parks, green spaces, schools.
“We are aware of several applications that have been turned down by council according to these bylaw rules,” Newton said. “We are especially aware of our application that has been approved, using a measurement from our front door to the lot line at Heritage Park.”
But with the Lickman application it was measured from the proposed “front door to the front door” of the other cannabis store, which was 325 metres away, and within the minimum buffer zone requirements.
“Nowhere in the bylaw does it mention measuring front door to front door. It clearly says lot,” Newton said.
But that is how staff have been interpreting it, since it was determined after staff looked hard at it that made more sense that way.
Director of engineering David Blain stated since they are spot-zoning for each cannabis retail application, and because the C9 zoning can’t migrate around a property, staff’s interpretation is that it is more appropriate and logical to measure from storefront to storefront, or front door to door, rather than lot line to lot line, which was the way it was initially understood when the bylaw was first written.
“We are learning as we go along. This is the first time we’ve had this,” Blain pointed out, about the task of measuring the distance between two pot store locations, as opposed to between a store and schools or playgrounds, or other areas with potentially adverse impacts of nearby cannabis outlets.
But if council was not comfortable with the staff’s interpretation, the procedures could be rewritten to reflect council’s wishes, Blain said.
Applicant Vikram Sachdeva, a local entrepreneur in Chilliwack for 17 years, who owns three Subway stores, said they chose the Lickman Road site specifically because it was more than 300 metres from the other cannabis store, and also far away from schools or places youth centres.
Sachdeva included the 250 signatures of support in the application package, and said he had done his due diligence and his homework regarding best practices. Sachdeva noted their application met all the zoning criteria, with no variances required, which council has already said it has no appetite for, and they have been leasing the empty commercial space in the industrial area in anticipation of approval.
Nathan Stone, owner of the property where the applicant hopes to operate the new cannabis store on Lickman Road spoke in support, saying he thoroughly vetted the applicant as lessee/operator, as there were five others competing to lease the space in a “frenzy” of interest.
“I would speak in favour of Vikram and his group. We wanted to make sure we were not finding a fly-by-night operator that thought running a pot store would be fun.”
Matt Ball from Lickman Travel Centre said he wanted too see consistency.
“I would just ask that when rules are set they are followed,” Ball said, adding that they welcomed “competition in the area” and there might be other suitable locations, but “not that close.”
“I think whatever happens here tonight I think we have to be very clear on how we do the measuring,” said Coun. Chris Kloot, referring to the question of whether it was measured by the lot line of a property, or the proposed storefront. “The waters seem a little muddied.”
Coun. Bud Mercer later said the C9 zone was written in “good faith to protect the vulnerable elements” of the community, meaning youth.
“So it only makes common sense if it was a park or school it would be measured from the property line because that’s where kids will play. It makes equal good sense if it’s a business that it would be door-to-door,” Mercer said. “I’m not handcuffed by semantics there is always common sense with bylaws. So perhaps as a city we should tighten that up so it’s clear. But I believe that staff have done the correct calculation.”
As a result of the discussion and vote, that part of the C9 is about to be rewritten. Moved by Coun. Sue Knott, at the end of the meeting, council voted to send it back to staff for review and to clarify the 300-metre buffer zone measuring protocols.
But before that happened, Coun. Jason Lum asked if that clarification process could be completed quickly so as not to cause undue delay for the applicant.
“We’ll work diligently,” said Blain, adding it would be “a matter of weeks.”
As a result, the Lickman Road rezoning applicant will have to wait for any C9 bylaw revisions first, and then go through the rezoning process once again.