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LUB amendment for cannabis store defeated

Posted on March 21, 2024 by Sunny South News

By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News

Coaldale won’t be getting a second cannabis retailer quite yet after a proposed bylaw amendment was defeated.

A public hearing was held for a Land Use Bylaw amendment during Coaldale town council’s regular March 11 meeting.

Bylaw 885-P-02-24 would re-designate a portion of land legally described as Plan 0913811 Block 2 Lot 72, from Highway Commercial (C-2) to Direct Control (DC), in order to accommodate the development of a Cannabis Retail Store. The building in question, located at 2507 21 Avenue, has four bays. The other three bays are currently occupied by different restaurants. The site in question would comply with four of the five setback requirements, and would require a waiver in regards to the 100-meter setback from a liquor store, as there is one approximately 40 meters from a liquor store across 21 Avenue.

According to the town’s LUB, the only land use district that a Cannabis Retail Store can be established on is DC. This is the third rezoning request for a cannabis store proposal – one was approved and has now been established, while the second was rejected.

At the time of publishing the meeting agenda, administration had received four pieces of correspondence indicating they were against the bylaw, raising concerns over the site’s proximity to residential areas, community safety, whether the Town was big enough to accommodate two cannabis retail stores, that the first cannabis store met setback requirements, and that council should avoid re-writing bylaws to accommodate cannabis store approval. An additional letter was received before the meeting, indicating opposition to the bylaw, and two letters in support of the bylaw from chambers of commerce in areas where the applicant operates similar facilities.

For the first three concerns, administration noted in the report that the Town believes in and supports free enterprise and broader market principles, that residential properties lie in proximity to all of Coaldale’s commercial areas, and while public health officials noted that these types of facilities, if they were in close proximity, had the potential to negatively impact public health, the only other existing cannabis retail store in town is located a fair distance away, at approximately 1,200 meters.

On the latter two points, administration in the report pointed out that the first store in fact required two waivers for setback requirements, and because the DC zoning is required for all cannabis retail store proposals, any request would require re-writing of the established bylaw.

The applicant, Ryan Swayze, director of The Source Dispensary Ltd., said they had three other shops, including one in Lethbridge.

“We have not changed locations, we’ve had no infractions, it’s been nothing but great with the AGLC here in Lethbridge,” said Swayze. 

When asked how they would ensure safety in the area, Swayze said all their shops had frosted windows, so while light could get in, but no one can see in. 

“You can’t see any cannabis product, anything like that. Our signage is very subtle, we’re The Source Cannabis, we have, it’s not a big cannabis leaf or anything like that. We’re not out there, we’re very sleek and we try to make it a place where someone’s mom, who might not want to be seen, or someone along that, can go. And it’s very sleek and smooth and not cannabis-in-your-face type-feeling.”

Chase Bennett, CEO of the Bud Supply Group, which operates the existing cannabis retail store in town, Box Car Bud Supply, asked council to be fair when accepting other applications, and not approve the variance allowing other cannabis stores to open in proximity to liquor stores, parks, schools, and residential neighbourhoods. Bennett noted that when BSG was going through the application process, it was extremely difficult and during it, they built a relationship with the Town, and in doing so, they had to compromise on location.

“By far, the hardest or biggest hurdle we had to come through was our location,” said Bennett. “We settled on a location that, in terms of retail, is less than desirable for our business to thrive, but it suited the preferences of council, and the residents, in order for us to be accepted.

“The specific location of Box Car Bud Supply was strictly accepted by the Town due to limited visibility, lack of foot traffic and lack of easy access to the main highway.”

Bennett pointed out that they spent thousands of dollars on rooftop signage and a mural. He argued that the proposed site’s highway access, proximity to residential and other stop-and-go businesses, and position on a major road in town gives it an unfair advantage, and in terms of location, it’s like “going from backstreet to Broadway”.

Mayor Jack Van Rijn noted that the Town had four liquor stores, that were in the same competitive business as a cannabis store.

“If we have business owners coming to us and trying to explain why we should not allow another business to open up, that’s where I have some concerns,” said Van Rijn, before asking if Coaldale was the most “difficult” municipality to deal with when they started the process, which Bennett confirmed saying Coaldale was in the top tier.

After the public hearing, Coun. Dale Pickering suggested they table discussion to give them time to think, referring to the location issue Bennett had. Cam Mills, director of growth and investment for the Town, noted it was a “difficult topic”. At the time when Box Car Bud Supply came into town, there were limited spaces for commercial opportunities for them.

“We worked with Mr. Bennett, in attempting to find a location that we thought would be most suitable given the climate at the time,” said Mills. “There were no locations in town that required no waivers whatsoever. So we understood that, we understood that he was going to have to come to council with an application for a location that was going to have to require some sort of waiver.”

Mills said there was no precedent here for council to violate. Back when these regulations were first passed, it was “perspective as council’s administrative representative” that members of the then-council had either opposed cannabis retail on moral grounds, or were cautious about a new industry. When the first application came in, the advice was to keep it out of the way.

“This was the location that had the best chance of success, given the rules that existed plus given the attitudes that we understood existed within the council of the day.”

Pickering noted that when Box Car Bud Supply made their application, the concern was over children at John Davidson School walking by. At the site of the proposed store, they will be funnelling students to the new high school at that intersection. Van Rijn said they were here to make a decision and that “council wasn’t elected to be the moral police person for the community.”

When asked for comment, Coun. Jordan Sailor, who earlier in the meeting declared a non-pecuniary conflict of interest in the item, agreed that they couldn’t deny a business due to a similar business operating in town, using the example of another gym or grocery store, and they have to keep an “open mind and vote accordingly”.

Council defeated second reading of the bylaw in a split 3-4 vote. Coun. Jason Beekman, Van Rijn and Sailor voted in favour. 

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