Townhall Chilliwack is going to remain a restaurant with a food primary licence.
A liquor primary licence application did not succeed, after Council turned down the proposal for a text amendment to the CD-7 zone after several neighbours spoke in opposition on Nov. 19.
Edna Lizotte, the liquor licensing consultant representing Townhall, was the first one up to the microphone.
“The reason that we’re here for a liquor primary licence is we wanted to add dancing at this location,” Lizotte told council.
What happened to trigger the application was that a liquor licence inspector walked into Townhall Chilliwack at one point and found a couple“just kind of moving to some music,” the consultant said.
“We’re only going this route because we’ve had no other alternative,” Lizotte said, referencing local bylaws prohibiting dancing for food primary businesses without a public participation endorsement.
The application also requested later closing hours for Friday and Saturday nights, to bring them in line with other liquor primary establishments.
They pledged to sign a good neighbour agreement, and despite music and dancing, games and a pool table, they said they would not permit the pub to become “detrimental” to the neighbhourhood, nor would it be a nightclub or provide adult entertainment. They said they were willing to cut back the closing hours as well.
“It’s a very nice little location and they just want to work with the community,” Lizotte said, adding there would be no entertainment on the patio.
But council received six emailed letters of opposition, and two letters of concern, by the time the agenda was prepared for the Nov. 19 meeting, and then several more after the agenda had been set.
Area resident Peter Ingram told council he’s woken up by the loud music, and drunken rowdiness that spills out out of Townhall. He wondered why the music was allowed to blare from the outside speakers for “hours and hours” when there’s no one even out on the patio.
“As a taxpayer living across the street from the Townhall, I have called there numerous occasions in the afternoon, I can count three or four times, to turn down their music, and that’s hearing it over Vedder Road,” said Ingram.
He talked about the excessive noise, as well as the spillover drama, fighting, trash, as well as drug/alcohol use that stem from patrons, but also noise from servers after close, all of which has impacted quality of life for his family.
“So personally there is no way I want a liquor primary licence granted to Townhall, turning it into a pub, with later closing hours.”
Ronda Sexsmith said she’s lived right across the street for more than 30 years, and since they built the restaurant she hears laughing and noise from Townhall.
“I can hear it all at night,” she said. “I’m really opposed to it being a liquor primary. It’s been good with people been taking their kids over there and it’s been a family environment.”
Neighbour Wanda Lee said the disruption and noise are concerns, as well as additional potential for more impaired driving, road rage incidents, trespassing, and feeling unsafe in the neighbourhood.
Bert Hick, owner of Rising Tide Consultants, said they’ve been working with Townhall owners, the Joseph Richard Group, for about 11 years, on various liquor licensing efforts, and JRG has a good reputation in several municipalities.
“They are clearly in the food and beverage business, and do not own or operate nightclubs,” Hick said addressing that concern mentioned by several speakers, adding that nightclubs “don’t make money; they’re dying” and “going the way of the dodo bird.”
They would prefer that it could stay a food primary, but with a patron participation endorsement added, but cannot under the current bylaws of Chilliwack, was how Hick described their central challenge.
But that was a point later questioned by Coun. Jason Lum, who couldn’t find the local bylaws Hick was referring to in his comments.
Coun. Harv Westeringh said after the hearing that he was having a hard time supporting the licence change and voted against.
“At first I was in support,” Westeringh said, explaining that it was close to Vedder and they were going to sign a Good Neighbour Agreement. “But after hearing the community come out in full opposition to it, I’m having difficulty supporting it now, so I will not be supporting it.”
Coun. Chris Kloot said he felt the neighbourhood needed to be listened to.
“I think we’ve heard loud and clear from the neighbours that they will be directly impacted by this.”
Coun. Sue Knott said she agreed, and was not comfortable with voting for a liquor primary.
“With a food primary these days you can do almost anything, although you can’t allow dancing,” Knott said.
“They have a good thing going and I would hope after hearing the comments, they will voluntarily remove the speakers from the patio.”
Coun. Jeff Shields said that it didn’t matter how much security they had or if they signed a good neighbour agreement, they were going to have issues. He did not vote in favour.
Coun. Bud Mercer voted against as well.
Coun. Lum said his concerns were consistent with his fellow councillors, and figures the whole situation was triggered by an “unfortunate misreading” of Chilliwack bylaw since he could not find any evidence that they would have been denied a entertainment and audience participation endorsement from the province.
“There is no way jurisdictionally that it could have overruled provincial legislation,” Lum said.
That being said he said the neighbourhood had found a “scapegoat” in Townhall, blaming them for needles, and people cutting through yards.
“It’s difficult to find a compelling argument in support, but there were enough against to say they shouldn’t go ahead.”
In the end, Council voted unanimously against the text amendments for a liquor primary licence for Townhall Chilliwack.