British Columbia

Craft zoning for craft beer: City of North Vancouver contemplates a brewery district

While more than 70 different B.C. communities have their own breweries, the path from leasing an industrial building to getting all the necessary approvals can be frustrating.

There are more than 50 breweries in Metro Vancouver, but working with municipal rules can be a challenge

One brewery is already in operation in the City of North Vancouver's proposed brewery district, and applications for four others are on the way. (Instagram/Vancouver's North Shore Tourism)

When you hear municipalities talking about prezoning in Metro Vancouver, it's usually about allowing for more density.

Right now in the City of North Vancouver, it's about allowing more suds. 

"My campaign talked to a lot of young people who really were looking for something different than just restaurants," said Mayor Linda Buchanan, explaining her support for a brewery district in her city.

Staff are currently drafting a plan that would amend zoning for three blocks of industrial land on the waterfront just east of Lonsdale Quay. If council approves it, new breweries in the district would automatically receive a lounge licence, allowing them to serve more beer and food than a simple tasting lounge.

"It just makes it easier for everybody. It costs everybody less money, they're more confident in terms of their timelines and trying to move forward their business plans," said Buchanan. 

Convoluted process 

The editor of the biggest publication devoted to craft beer in B.C. had a simple reaction to the news. 

"I thought 'fantastic.' And why aren't more municipalities doing that?" said Rob Mangelsdorf, editor of ​The Growler

The number of craft breweries has exploded in B.C., from a few dozen at the start of this decade to more than 150 today, from Fort St. John to Tofino. 

While over 70 different B.C. communities have their own breweries, the path from leasing an industrial building to getting all the necessary approvals can be frustrating, with some aspects overseen by the province and some by the municipality. 

"Municipal governments still don't quite understand how positive craft breweries can be to their community," said Mangelsdorf. Outside of Vancouver and Port Moody, he said many Metro Vancouver communities have forced breweries to move slowly.

"Municipalities should not fear the beer," he said.

"A craft beer tasting room is not a nightclub. It's not a dark dank pub. They are family friendly." 

The industrial land for which city staff are exploring a mass zoning amendment. (City of North Vancouver)

Preserving industrial zones

Buchanan said the idea for a brewery district came because four different groups expressed interest in applying for a licence in the area, which is already home to the Beere Brewing Company. 

She said creating the designation was an ideal way to revitalize industrial land without losing the zoning. 

"We really want to make sure that we are maintaining our industrial zones ... this is just a bit of an extension to allow you to have the opportunity to have people come in, and have a little bit more than just what you get at a tasting." 

One of those incoming breweries, House of Funk Brewing, applauded the decision. 

"We're just really excited about how both the planning department and council were super supportive," said co-founder Darren Hollett. 

"In a year's time from now, or two years time from now, it's going to be it's going to be a pretty cool area."

Peak beer? 

If every brewery in North Vancouver opens as planned, there will be eight, more than any other municipality save for Kelowna, which also has eight, Victoria, where there are nine, and Vancouver, which has 31.

"I think that it is starting to get toward a point of saturation," said Hollett, who predicted people in large population centres would be less inclined to start breweries because of diminishing space for their product in liquor stores. 

But he said there was still plenty of opportunity in smaller cities. And with only a handful of B.C. breweries shutting down during this decade-long boom, it's easy to imagine other municipalities copying North Vancouver's actions in the future.

"Is the growth going to slow down? Absolutely," said Mangelsdorf.

"But from a community perspective, there's a lot of reasons why these establishments are going to continue to be successful." 

Metro Matters: On The Road is exploring how new city governments throughout B.C. are approaching age-old issues (some political, some not) in their communities.


Justin McElroy


Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.