Urban Smoke Shop will be converting its Fifth Street store into a non-medical cannabis retailer. Scott Stanfield photo

Courtenay council OK’s third cannabis retailer

A third cannabis retailer has been given the green light to operate in Courtenay.

With the exception of Will Cole-Hamilton, council approved Monday a rezoning to allow Urban Smoke Shop to convert its store at 143 Fifth St. into a non-medical cannabis retailer. Cole-Hamilton opposed final reading because of the shop’s proximity to Simms and Lewis parks. A playground at Simms is less than 300 metres away from Urban Smoke, which contravenes the City’s Storefront Cannabis Retailers Policy. The City, however, notes that the Courtenay River provides a buffer zone.

The City is processing nine applications for cannabis stores on a first-come, first-serve basis. Up to five private retailers are allowed in Courtenay, along with one government-operated store. Besides Urban Smoke, council has approved a private store at Driftwood Mall and a government store at the Washington Park Shopping Mall. On Monday, council approved second reading for a proposal from Bowser Cannabis to operate at ‘Courtenay Mall’ at Cliffe and Sixth.

“The proposal is generally consistent with the policy except for the distance limitation to playgrounds,” a staff report states. The location is about 150 metres away from Urban Smoke. The policy suggests a cannabis retailer be at least 400 metres from another retailer; however, it doesn’t limit council from considering variances to separation distances.

At a public hearing about Urban Smoke’s application, Patricia Curry — who is among the applicants — said the business is too close to other proposed stores and to parks. She is against the first-come, first-serve practice because she feels some applicants are not following the rules.

At Monday’s meeting, Coun. Doug Hillian said there’s some merit to Curry’s claims in terms of limits to store numbers, and to the first-come, first-serve practice.

“I think we have some challenges in making the decisions on all these (applications) knowing that limit,” he said.

Ian Buck, director of development services, said the policy is not intended to fetter council discretion.

“The policy was specifically designed to be flexible, and to provide council the ability on individual applications to make a determination on what to do with an application,” he said.

Buck notes the City had considered processing applications concurrently as it was developing the policy, but decided it was less complicated to deal with them on a one-off basis.

A Business Improvement Association survey indicates support for up to three stores in the downtown area. However, the minimum 400-metre distance between stores would make this difficult to achieve.

“There is that flexibility to adjust those numbers, and that’s the rationale why we went first-come, first-serve,” Buck said.

Additional applications are being processed for stores at 379 4th St., 1025 Cliffe Ave. and 576 England Ave.

A public hearing about the Bowser Cannabis application will be held at 5 p.m. Monday, April 15 in council chambers.

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