Penticton city council has rejected a plan to ban cannabis storefronts from Main and Front streets downtown, but the decision will delay the opening of stores within the city by at least a month.
Councillors heard from a range of residents Tuesday during a public hearing on the city's retail cannabis policy, who urged council to allow pot shops to operate on the two streets city staff said should be protected as the highest-value retail corridors in the city.
Speaking on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, Daryl Clarke pointed to pawn shops and a sex store already operating on Main Street, and challenged council why cannabis is treated differently.
“If you look at what these people are proposing to put down there, their storefronts are fine — there is nothing wrong with it.”
Owner of the Government Street Liquor Store, Jeff Leonard, argued cannabis should not be treated any differently than alcohol.
“You have two more breweries that are going to open up right downtown, you are embracing those as businesses. You should perhaps look at this as the next wave as something to embrace,” he said.
Nobody that spoke at the public hearing was in support of keeping retail cannabis off Main and Front streets, and council appeared to pay attention.
“We do not, to my knowledge, restrict any other business on Main Street or Front Street,” said Coun. Julius Bloomfield. “If we are going to restrict a cannabis outlet, then we should be looking at restricting other businesses that we don't feel lead to the wellbeing of the downtown.”
With Mayor John Vassilaki having recused himself due to his land holdings on Main Street and Coun. Jake Kimberly absent, Coun. Katie Robinson was the only person around the table to vote in favour of the ban.
She was primarily worried the stores would bring too much traffic to the downtown, talking about observations she’s personally made about the amount of people visiting the unlicensed store operating on Front Street.
“In 20 minutes... I witnessed almost three accidents and somebody doing a U-turn in the middle of the street and a lot of other things going on that was of concern,” Robinson said. “It seems to be a revolving door, people go in, get what they want and leave. Much the same way you would look at a convenience store.”
Bloomfield pushed back against Robinson, saying “most people would welcome” additional customer traffic on Front Street.
Council agreed 4 - 1 to amend the proposed policy to allow the stores on Main and Front Streets.
The change, however, will mean a new public hearing will need to be held at the next council meeting January 8 prior to the policy's formal adoption. As a result, council accepted a recommendation from planning manager Blake Laven that the city not start processing applications for retail cannabis until February 1, rather than the originally planned January 1.
The change will allow shops proposed for the two streets to get their applications in to be considered at the same time as those already submitted.
One of those is proposed to go in at 210 Main Street, the current home of Bluenose Coins. The family that owns the store recently received municipal approval for Summerland’s first cannabis store, Green Gaia Cannabis Co.
Council also approved a rezoning application after a brief public hearing to pave the way for an application for a cannabis storefront at 310 Comox Street, which is currently a residential property.
Councillors heard from the owner of the TPD Health Boutique, an unlicensed dispensary that’s operated on Front Street for the past six months.
Owner Christopher Dawe called on the city to grant him a temporary-use permit to allow him to operate for the months prior to a legal store opens.
“When we know we are months away from having an actual retail store, it's going to do nothing but drive thousands of non-taxable dollars into the hands of street criminals,” he said. “If following a bylaw means that people are going to suffer and people are going to promote the black market, I think we have an obligation to not follow that bylaw.”
Acting city manager Laurie Darcus shut Dawe down, telling him “at this point you are running an illegal business,” and blocked the discussion from moving further.
Some that spoke at the public hearing also urged council to allow cannabis stores into Penticton's C7 zone, which is primarily auto-oriented commercial and other large floor-space commercial uses. Council declined the request, but noted proposed shops would be considered in the area in some cases on a site-specific basis.