By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
During Coaldale town council’s regular March 22 meeting, council passed a motion to perform first reading of Bylaw Land-Use Rezoning, Bylaw 805-P-03-21, in a split 6-1 vote, with Coun. Doreen Lloyd voting against. If passed, the bylaw would redesignate the lands legally described as Plan 6476AA Block 9 Lot 1 from Commercial (C-1) to Direct Control (DC), and potentially allow for the establishment of a cannabis retail store. Due to the immense public interest around the legalization process back in 2018, Sunny South News spoke with Cam Mills, manager of Economic and Community Development for the town, in a two-part interview on the rezoning bylaw. * Please note the interview was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.
In your own words, what is Land-Use Rezoning Bylaw 805-P-03-21?
Bylaw 805-P-03-21 is an application from a business to rezone a property in downtown Coaldale from its current zoning (Commercial C1) to Direct Control (DC) in order to allow for the establishment of a cannabis retail sales facility.
What is the plan for the facility?
The applicant (Bud Supply Group) is seeking permission to open a cannabis retail sales facility in the proposed location. If approved, this would mean the conversion of the existing building (either in whole or in-part) from its existing setup as a restaurant to a retail store that would be licensed by the province through the AGLC to sell cannabis products. The property is currently the location of 3G Eatery.
Is this the first cannabis facility (retail or factory) that has expressed interest in setting up in Coaldale?
Bud Supply Group is not the first to express interest in opening a cannabis retail sales operation in Coaldale, but they are the first to follow through with an application since cannabis was legalized in October of 2018. Previous approvals have been granted for the production of both medical and recreational cannabis as an industrial use, but those approvals did not include the ability to sell the product directly to the consumer (in fact it is my understanding production facilities, at this time, are not eligible to also operate as storefronts under the province’s existing rules).
From my understanding of the town’s LUB amendment, cannabis retail sales is a prohibited use in commercial districts (which the building currently is) “(and all other) land-use districts,” but it is allowed under Direct Control districts, correct? What would rezoning to Direct Control do in terms of the retail store?
That’s correct. What that really means is, in order to open a cannabis retail sales facility in Coaldale, rezoning to a specialized DC zoning is required. The fundamental difference then, for this type of use, is the ultimate decision on the merit of the application lies with our elected officials. So for example, approvals that are “permitted” in the bylaw are dealt with at the staff level, and approvals that are “discretionary” are moved up to a committee called the Municipal Planning Commission — which consists of three councillors and two members of the public, and for which the general public is invited to provide input on the decision before it is made. In this particular case, a rezoning to DC represents what could be seen as one additional step beyond that, where the application is considered by council, as a whole. It’s a good way to ensure the community’s interests are considered, as part of a decision, particularly for an issue like this one — where there is likely to be lots of community interest and/or concern about the concept being proposed.
As they are leasing space in an established restaurant, what additional steps will they need to take if approved?
In the event the application is approved, the applicant would need to follow all the same standards as any other business in the sense of a permit, which would regulate things like signage or hours of operation and so forth; plus they would be making interior renovations, so all of the building code issues would have to be addressed. On top of that, for this particular industry, there are very specific requirements mostly having to do with security and screening that would have to be met prior to being granted a provincial licence. Without a licence from the province they can’t buy product from the wholesaler (which is also the province in this industry), so it’s really important for them they do a good and thorough job to meet those requirements, which are quite strict. I’m not an expert in all facets of those regulations, but it includes things like the need for security systems and extra secure storage rooms where the product can be moved during non-business hours; the rules are quite extensive.
In the report to council, it was noted waivers would be needed to meet the requirements of the LUB. If the amendments are approved, how would these be potentially granted?
Schedule 14 of the land-use bylaw covers the requirements for opening a cannabis retail sales operation in Coaldale. The regulations that were ultimately adopted by council back in 2018 were largely in-line with the recommendations of Alberta Health Services, who recommended stricter measures than what was proposed as minimum requirements by Alberta Municipal Affairs. The grounds for the stricter regulations were based on concepts of public health, and they include a number of measures that call for setbacks from these types of uses from other uses. For example, the most stringent requirement is a setback of 500 metres between cannabis retail stores; on the grounds there is some research to suggest a high density of these types of operations leads to negative public health outcomes. That’s the most significant setback requirement, but there are also regulations with respect to various separation distances from schools, daycares, recreation facilities, liquor stores, etc. Lethbridge, by contrast, adopted the minimum required regulations; every municipality in the province decided for themselves the best path to take for their own community. The nature of these regulations and these types of decisions is that, where the site doesn’t perfectly meet all the requirements, it’s then up to the decision-making authority, in this case council, after a community input process, to decide if a waiver is warranted. Basically, council will consider if this property is suitable — even though it doesn’t fully comply with the stated requirements; these decisions come up from time to time, as every property is unique and even regulations crafted with the best of intentions don’t always work in every instance; council will hear the presentation from the applicant and any other parties speaking in favour or opposed to the application, and once they have all the information in front of them, they will be able to make an informed decision on the subject.
If the bylaw is approved, the applicant would still need to apply for a development permit before opening, correct? Are there any other steps they would need to take to setup shop?
Yes, a development permit would still be required. The proposed bylaw, as it is written, provides the authority to issue the permit to staff — the logic here being that, once issues are addressed broadly through this Public Hearing, going through the process again for the minor details associated with the permit (the size of a sign for example) would be onerous and expensive, for both the town and the applicant. With that said, it’s certainly possible to amend that particular section of the bylaw — should council wish to do so. In addition to a development permit from the town they would need safety code approvals, and as I mentioned, they would also go through rigorous licensing requirements through the AGLC before they would be allowed to open for business.
The applicant had letters of references from two towns. What are your thoughts on them?
I think the applicant has really tried to put their best foot forward in terms of recognizing the importance of this process, and the importance of giving the community the opportunity to understand what they are about and how they plan to run their business. This is a fairly experienced group with a handful of stores around southern Alberta and they know what it means to be the first of this type of operation in a smaller, more rural community that may have a significant portion of the population nervous about the prospect of cannabis sales. I will say to their credit they seem interested in addressing those concerns head-on and in a respectful and understanding way, which is obviously great to see.
When will the Public Hearing take place?
The hearing will take place in the evening of April 12.
We still have gathering restrictions in place, so it will be a virtual hearing through the Zoom platform; we will be advertising the hearing in the Sunny South News, as well as sending direct letters to nearby properties. On top of that, we’re going to post the ad to the website and we will promote the hearing on our social media platforms. We want to make sure people who want to learn more about the application, or who want to speak to it, have the opportunity to do so. People who aren’t comfortable on Zoom or can’t make the time can submit written correspondence to us; like all of our meetings they can watch live or after the fact on YouTube, and of course if people have questions they are welcome to give me a call and I’ll do my best to get them the information they need.
In 2018, the LUB amendments regarding the legalization of cannabis underwent a process that had dragged on for months and garnered immense interest. Is the town taking any additional steps to facilitate interest (special e-mail for submission, website, ect.)?
Yes, the conversations with the community on the issues surrounding the legalization of cannabis were extensive, no question about that. This issue was actually my introduction to the Coaldale community. I was working for a number of municipalities on this issue and I transitioned into my current role with the town midway through this process.
There was a survey circulated that got a tremendous response, there were a number of open houses, we spoke to local groups, presented at the chamber of commerce and discussed the issue with them, and held a number of public sessions with council — where the regulations for cannabis stores, as well as regulations concerning public consumption were discussed. During that time, I also fielded a lot of phone calls on the subject, met with people who came into Town Hall, etc. What was perhaps most interesting about the feedback was it was very divided. There were many people in the community who were generally supportive of legalization and who liked the idea of these types of operations opening in town, and there was approximately an equal amount of feedback suggesting many people were concerned or apprehensive about the impact these types of operations would have on their community. When I say this was “interesting” — it’s in the sense there were lots of strongly held opinions, but little community consensus on the best path forward; listening to all of this public input, in my view, contributed to our council deciding to take a cautious path — one that doesn’t preclude the approval for these types of operations, but one that certainly takes a more restrictive approach than what was seen in Lethbridge — where dozens of stores have since opened.
Because this is the first application we’ve received for such an operation, it’s really an opportunity for council and the community to consider the issue once again, now that some time has passed and the impact of legalization is perhaps more clear. In through our engagement app “Let’s Connect Coaldale” — which people can find on our website (www.coaldale.ca).
Is there anything you would like to add or stress about this rezoning bylaw?
Given that I’m very aware of how passionate people on both sides of this issue can be, and I fully respect that, I would just like to encourage anyone who wants to participate in this process to do so.
If you have questions about the application, or about the process, or about how rezoning works, or anything at all, I’d really encourage you to reach out to town staff in the planning department, myself included.
We understand this is important and we take a lot of pride in making sure we’re available to help people understand these sometimes technical and confusing processes.
The best way to get real, first-hand information on the subject is to reach out to us. We live in an age where a lot of information is made available very quickly, but it’s sometimes hard to separate fact from fiction, especially on social media, so in the interest of making sure people get the clarity they need, I’d suggest reach out to me or any of our staff and we will do what we can to help.