In a move to streamline the process for liquor licence applications, White Rock council is opting for electronic public hearings – rather than more traditional open meetings, made difficult to manage under current COVID-19 social distancing rules.
A planning bylaw amendment, adopted at council’s June 15 meeting, also delegates the compiling of public comment – for some liquor primary club licences not requiring hearings – to the city’s director of planning and development services, Carl Isaak.
Isaak will be able to submit the feedback, along with analysis, directly to the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch on council’s behalf.
That’s already the practice for some other applications for which hearings are not deemed necessary, such as changes to existing licences, including enlarging patios or minor extensions to liquor service hours.
Under the new amendment, public hearings will now be held electronically for applications for new licences, as well as lounge endorsements (unless they refer to ‘manufacturer’ licences for brew pubs previously supported by council).
The change will also apply to hearings concerning patron participation entertainment (such as karaoke or dancing), extensions of opening hours by more than one hour, or the relocation of existing liquor licences.
In presenting a draft amendment, Isaak, and planning manager Greg Newman, assured council that the electronic public hearing process will still allow plenty of opportunity for the public to comment by email or phone.
But Coun. Christopher Trevelyan and Deputy Mayor Scott Kristjanson – who both voted against bringing the amendment forward for readings and final adoption – said they worried that the move to electronic hearings might tend to disenfranchise some residents.
“(While) I’m generally supportive of this, I’m just concerned that the elderly percentage of the population who may not be comfortable with electronic means of communication would be cut out of this picture on a topic that may be very important to them,” Trevelyan said.
“They may want to come in person and give their two cents.”
Newman said, however, that all notifications of hearings would include both an email address and a phone number for “people that might be more comfortable just calling staff and arranging for a meeting.”
“We’re still able to do that – we just want to avoid the agglomeration of people in the same room,” he added.
The change in the bylaw immediately affected one application already in process with the city.
Notification of the liquor primary licence application for Mann Park Lawn Bowling Club on North Bluff Road will be re-posted by the city for further public input – with a further 30-day deadline for response.
The licence, if granted, would allow the club to serve alcohol to members and their guests on a regular basis, rather than applying for individual special event licences, as it has done to this point.
Conditions already worked out through negotiation with city staff are that service hours at the club would be between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m.; that service would be limited to the clubhouse and its patio; and that no liquor would be served at times when children are at White Rock and Cobble Hill Montessori classes (also held at the club building).