Edmonton to keep 500-metre rule between liquor stores, councillors decide

The City of Edmonton will continue to insist that liquor stores be 500-metres apart, despite senior planners recommending the rule be eliminated in some neighbourhoods.

There's no room for more liquor stores in downtown and Oliver, city planners say

City planners recommended eliminating the 500-metre zoning bylaw requirement in Edmonton's Oliver and downtown neighbourhoods. (CBC)

Edmonton liquor stores will continue to be kept 500 metres apart, despite a recommendation by senior planners that the rule be eliminated in some neighbourhoods.

City council's urban planning committee agreed to shelve the proposed change after a lengthy debate Tuesday at city hall.

Planners recommend eliminating the rule for downtown and Oliver, two of the highest density residential, employment and tourist areas in Edmonton, a report before the committee said.

"This density and economic activity supports a higher demand for liquor stores," the report said.

Under the current 500-metre restriction, there is no capacity for new liquor stores in the downtown and Oliver neighbourhoods.

The distance between liquor stores became a hot topic in December 2017, when Stantec asked for an exemption on behalf of the Katz Group, so the company could open a store in the ICE district.

After the group requested the exemption, council asked for the review in Jan. 2018. 

Coun. Scott McKeen said he thought inviting more competition would weed out sketchy operators and invite more responsible ones who wouldn't sell to intoxicated people.

"This has been so frustrating," he said during the meeting. "This was about improving safety, security, removing as much as we could the exploitation of vulnerable people — that was our goal, and liveability."

"And what we found is that it's really difficult for us to do." 

During an urban planning committee Tuesday, Coun. Scott McKeen said the intent of the bylaw amendment was to increase safety and security, not the opposite. (John Shypitka/CBC)

McKeen had a change of heart Tuesday after hearing several people, including Coun. Aaron Paquette, express concern that loosening the rule would encourage a proliferation of liquor stores, and with them social problems.

"I've never actually heard a positive that if you have a problem with alcohol in the community, pour more liquor on it," Paquette said.

Curtis Boehm, a pastor at Grace Lutheran Church, who is an Oliver resident and a social advocate with the community league, spoke against the recommendation to eliminate the distance.

"It would change the atmosphere, the tone of our neighbourhood," Boehm told councillors. "I think I would like to see it go the other way, to become more family-oriented, more community-oriented, and balanced."

'Red-herring argument'

James Burns, CEO of Alcanna, which operates liquor depots, dismissed the idea that more stores will add to social problems, noting there are 2,200 liquor stores in Alberta.

"It's widely available, so I think it's a red-herring argument," he said. "There's lots of alcohol, anyone can get it anytime they want."

He had urged councillors to support the recommendation and get rid of the 500-metre rule. 

"In any business you want to be able to put your locations where you think there's a market, or where you think the competition is not serving the customers well and you can do better."

Currently there are nine liquor stores downtown and eight in Oliver, senior city planner Colton Kirsop told councillors.

The planning report called for a Liquor Store Opportunity Area from 97th Street to 121st Street, between just north of Jasper Avenue and 104th Avenue

The city also conducted the review to cut down on zoning exemptions and appeals.

Kirsop said since 2007, 48 applications refused by a city development officer went before the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board.

In 20 cases, the SBAD agreed with the businesses and granted licences.

The committee wants the city to do a comprehensive review of the city's zoning bylaw, and bring that back to a public hearing.

The city will also scrutinize design requirements for liquor stores, including lighting and window dressing.

"There's an idea there of transparency equals safety, security, vibrancy for the street," McKeen said. "Just kind of looks better to see an active retail business rather than walking by and seeing a bunch of Budweiser posters."

McKeen also called for more co-operation from the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission to enforce laws related to serving intoxicated patrons.



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