Grocery store wine idea has legs

Mixed opinions: Council undecided on a one-kilometre bylaw

Salmon Arm councillors are divided over how to address concerns regarding the potential for wine sales in local grocery stores.

At its May 2 development and planning meeting, council heard from Liquor Store owner Gord Erickson who asked the city to consider establishing a bylaw requiring future liquor retailers to locate a minimum distance of one kilometre from existing liquor outlets.

At the June 6 development and planning meeting, council received a written and verbal report from city development services director Kevin Pearson advising against such a bylaw.

“There was a suggestion by some of the private liquor store owners in town… that we should be installing that regulation in our zoning bylaw,” said Pearson.

“I looked carefully at that. I studied it, I got a legal opinion on it and I don’t recommend that we install the one-kilometre rule.”

Pearson was supportive of an amendment to the definition of “retail store” in the city’s zoning bylaw, to exclude the sale of packaged liquor products,” and “not include a licensee retail store.”

“If that were to happen… all existing stores could continue to operate and run in the scale they operate now as a non-conforming use,” Pearson explained. “If we deleted licensee retail stores from all the commercial zones, it would mean no new ones could come into our market… without going through a rezoning application.

“That’s one way council could control this. And that’s a proper way to do it – by zoning, not a one-kilometre rule where you can try to vary it because that’s not right. It’s not proper. You shouldn’t be trying to vary uses. I know Kamloops does it, but it doesn’t mean it’s right.”

Coun. Chad Eliason favoured this recommendation, suggesting a one-kilometre option might be considered  in three to five years during the next official community plan review.

“If we’re going to be looking at site-specific zoning for things like alcohol distribution, I think that would also be a good time to look at something like, you know, medical marijuana dispensaries, things like that. Whether we like it or not, and whether people want to deal with it or not, that’s going to come to our table…,” said Eliason.

Coun. Tim Lavery said he was leaning toward a bylaw enforcing the one-kilometre distance restriction. He asked, however, that options presented by Pearson be sent to the local chamber, Downtown Salmon Arm and the Economic Development Society for input.

Lastly, Coun. Alan Harrison’s preference was to not interfere. He said the provincial government sought public input before creating legislation permitting the sale of wine in grocery stores.

“It’s interesting because when the private liquor stores were provided the opportunity back in early 2000 sometime, we heard the same argument from the public liquor store about the hazards if private stores sell alcohol,” said Harrison.

Harrison continued to explain how he visited a Save-On-Foods that sells wine in Kelowna. He praised what he saw, and suggested what’s needed is a philosophical change in how liquor is viewed.

“I think we need to change the perception and move towards a more European model – that alcohol is not like a forbidden fruit that you cannot see until you’re 19, because that’s part of the problem, that everybody that’s 15, 16, 17 and 18 wonder about this secret and they try to get ahold of the forbidden fruit, which is very easy to get ahold of…,” said Harrison. “What I saw there was families, of course, shopping and there was people of all ages – it’s not a secret.

“The wine is out there, and people want to be able to pick up a bottle of wine and pick up their eggs and their milk. I think the majority of the public think that’s a good idea.”

Mayor Nancy Cooper agreed with Harrison’s point of view. Coun. Ken Jamieson didn’t comment, while Coun. Kevin Flynn excused himself from the discussion because of a conflict of interest.

Council’s final decision was to send the staff report to other agencies for input.