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BEPPLE: Business confidence is lost when councillors can't provide certainty

Image Credit: Compilation/Jennifer Stahn
August 21, 2015 - 8:23 AM

Business loves certainty. And that's what local businesses thought they had a few weeks ago when Kamloops city council defeated a motion to restrict the locations of stores selling alcohol to within 1 km of existing retailers.

The motion, which Councillor Spina proposed, was defeated by a tie vote of 4 to 4.

With the motion defeated, new stores or existing retailers, including grocery stores, were free to sell BC wines under the revised BC liquor laws to sell BC VQA wines. Retailers, whether they already had a liquor store, wanted to open one up, or were a grocery store who wanted to add wine sales, had certainty.

Existing liquor stores knew they could expect competition. Competition can be hard, though in general it means better service and choice for consumers. Existing liquor stores have existing clientele and location, leaving new stores pressed to provide even better service. Grocery stores like Save-on-Foods, Safeway and other grocers also had certainty they could take advantage of the new provincial liquor laws. Local Kamloops wineries were banking on expanded sales.

The defeat of the motion gave businesses, new and old, certainty. They had rules to work with based in the provincial liquor laws and Kamloops municipal zoning bylaws.
Now there is uncertainty again. In this week's council meeting, Councillor Wallace asked for a reconsideration on the motion. She was able to do that because she voted against the original motion. Her motivation for reconsidering the motion was that previously, all potential new liquor stores in Kamloops went through public consultation. The public had input into whether they wanted a new liquor store or not. Her concern was that this step had been lost.

With Councillor Wallace changing her vote, the motion to restrict locations of new liquor retailers to within 1 km of existing retailers passed 5 to 3.
With her vote of support, businesses can no longer freely locate where they wish. The one-kilometre restriction effectively eliminates any new wine retailers from any commercial areas of Kamloops since there are already liquor stores in all non-residential areas of the city.

It's not that it's impossible for new retailers to locate within one-kilometre of another store, but has become much, much more difficult. It introduces a lot more uncertainty.
Now, a new retailer will have to apply for a development variance, which means they will have to ask for an exception to selling liquor within one kilometre. The request for this variance will go to council who must then request input from the public before making a decision.

Given that only three councillors clearly showed support for allowing new liquor retailers within one kilometre of existing sites in the first place, there is far less than a certain outcome of a new business asking for a development variance. Why would any potential business even bother? Which will likely mean potential new businesses will stay away. Why risk investing in such an uncertain undertaking?

Councillor Wallace's motivation to provide public consultation on where liquor is sold in Kamloops follows the overall philosophy of this and the previous council. Consultation means voices are heard, but it has the cost that businesses must start ventures with less certainty of success. The decision of council to overturn the previous decision will likely be greeted less than enthusiastically by local business people.

Businesses need to know that rules come with certain outcomes. The council's decision means that businesses will put their efforts elsewhere. Too bad, since it would have been great to have supported the young Kamloops wineries. But I'm fairly certain we won't now.

— Nancy Bepple is a recovering politician and local news junkie. She expects she will never recover from her love of the banjo.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
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