Edmonton

Downtown core could see more liquor stores if city council gets its way

Liquor store owners are asking city councillors to take a sober second look at a city report recommending council do away with a bylaw keeping liquor stores 500 metres apart.

500-metre separation between stores unrealistic in densely-populated areas, councillors say

Bottles of wine line the shelves at the Sherbrooke Liquor store.

Liquor store owners are asking city councillors to take a sober second look at a city report recommending council do away with a bylaw keeping liquor stores 500 metres apart. 

Eliminating the current bylaw would turn the booze business into a free for all, proprietors told the urban planning committee Tuesday. 

"You've got a store like Liquor Depot or Alcanna now, they can go and open 60 stores tomorrow," said David Owens, owner of Sherbrooke Liquor.

"They've got the financing and the budget behind it, Owens said. "They've got the realtors and they've got all that, where I'm one guy doing it all by myself."

Irene Blain, director with the West Jasper Place Community League, pointed to an increase in social issues like alcohol abuse and violence when there are too many liquor stores in a small area.

There are four liquor stores in a five-block radius along Stony Plain Road, resulting in an increase in the number of complaints about aggressive panhandlers and drunks, Blain said.   

High-density neighbourhoods

The current bylaw is working just fine in the suburbs and mature neighbourhoods, said Coun. Michael Walters.

However, he would like to the see the 500-metre barrier eased where it comes to shopping centres and high-density neighbourhoods downtown.

"What I think we're talking about is making some changes to an area of town that's going to have way more people living in it in the coming decades," Walters said.

The planning committee needs to come up with a formula to determine how close liquor stores can be in the downtown core, he said.

"Five hundred metres is generally agreed to by the industry and by the community at large. Where we need to add more downtown, potentially, we can use that formula to change those distances," he said.

Difficult decision

Even with the right formula, too many liquor stores in the downtown core will create problems for agencies that help the homeless and others with addiction issues, said Ivonne Martinez, president of the Alberta Liquor Store Association.

"What are those benchmarks? What studies have they done?" Martinez asked.  

"Is it three buildings for one liquor store? Is it going to be two buildings per liquor store? We don't know that and unless we have that information in front of us, it's going to be difficult to make those decisions."

City planners will report back to the committee in March.

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