Nelson council, at its Jan. 12 meeting, decided to pursue a zoning bylaw amendment that would increase the number of cannabis retail stores allowed in the downtown area from two to three.
But there are are already three downtown.
In 2018, council decided it would allow five cannabis retail outlets in the city – two downtown, one in Railtown, one in the Front Street area and another in the Nelson Avenue area.
This was decided after extensive consultation including a public survey that received 1,770 responses.
If there were more applicants than the allowable number for any of the areas of the city, the result was to be decided at the time by lottery. There were three applicants for downtown, and Buddy’s Place, formerly Leaf Cross, lost in the draw.
Leaf Cross asked council for time to find an alternative location, and council granted the temporary permit. But recently Buddy’s asked council to reconsider its rules and allow six rather than five outlets in Nelson, and change the number allowable downtown to three, so it could stay open at its Baker Street location.
Council declined to increase the overall number for the city, but, with very little debate, voted in favour of a bylaw amendment that would transfer the Nelson Ave. option, which has gone un-used, to downtown. That would leave the total for the city at five, but now with three allowable downtown, if the new bylaw amendment passes.
The only argument against making this change was that the original configuration was based on a public consultation in 2018 that should be respected, but councillors seemed to be in agreement that times have already changed.
This perception was summed up by Councillor Rik Logtenberg, who said, “The public engagement was done in the absence of knowing what would happen in the community, so we exercised a degree of caution in trying to limit the number of retail stores.
“What I think we have seen over the last two years is that the impact has been, if not positive, it has been neutral … I don’t think I have heard anybody complain.”
Councillor Keith Page asked if the city should eventually survey the community again “after a couple of years of this being live in the market.”
City manager Kevin Cormack said yes, this could be done, but probably not during the pandemic.
City planner Alex Thumm pointed out that since the initial application process early in 2019 there have been no further serious applicants for cannabis retail stores in Nelson. Potential applicants now will have to look at locating in Railtown, he said.
Councillor Janice Morrison said she hopes this decision is not a precedent because she doesn’t want to see too many cannabis shops downtown, but welcomed the prospect of an applicant who might want to locate in Railtown.
Mayor John Dooley asked Thumm if there are any illegal cannabis stores in Nelson. Thumm said there were none that he is aware of.
Council directed staff to return with a zoning amendment, which come to council in February.
Thumm estimates a public hearing would be held by March. Council can only move adoption of a zoning amendment bylaw following a public hearing.