The Tofino Brewing Company is hoping to open up a new accessory lounge to allow potential customers to sample more of its products but the district isn’t sure that’s the sort of activity it wants on Industrial Way.
The brewery—691 Industrial Way—currently houses a tasting area but patrons are restricted to a maximum of 375 milliliters per day whilst an accessory lounge would not have this restriction and allow more flavours to be tested before purchases are made.
Before a lounge can be set up though, the brewery needs Tofino’s municipal council to approve a zoning amendment and several councillors are reluctant.
Tofino’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers submitted a report on the brewery’s zoning amendment application to council during a recent regular meeting.
He noted any on-site retail operations in Tofino’s industrial zone must be secondary to the primary business and said the proposed lounge is expected to fit into that by accounting for only about 10 per cent of the brewery’s revenue.
“We have to ensure that it stays ancillary so that we don’t get in a situation where we’re having the commercial area drive the industrial use,” he said.
He said the brewery has enough parking to support the proposed lounge and the applicants have offered a $30,000 amenity towards a recreational facility in Tofino as well as a covenant on a staff-housing unit.
The lounge’s hours would be limited to 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, according to Rodgers.
He said the lounge would be about 800 sq. ft. and have capacity for 35 people.
Coun. Duncan McMaster suggested the lounge could bring unfair competition to other businesses.
“In the summer everybody’s busy but I’ve been to a lot of these bars on a cold, wet, wintery night and you could ring the bell in there sometimes,” he said. “I’m not opposed to the accessory lounge. I’m just opposed to bringing excessive competition to people that have been making a living for quite a while.”
McMaster added allowing the lounge could unleash a precedent along Industrial Way that would be hard to cage.
“There’s rumours of a distillery going up there and, whatever we do here, the next person along the line will come and ask for the same thing,” he said. “We have to make an effort to try and get it right the first time.”
Coun. Dorothy Baert agreed.
“It’s a slippery slope,” she said. “It’s always hard to say no and it gets harder when you’ve already said yes.”
She said Tofino must pay close attention to its industrial zone and ensure its activity is consistent with its intent.
“There’s work that has gone on by a number of people to create zones and my view is the Industrial Way zone is a very particular zone created for very particular reasons,” she said.
“We want to be sure that there’s a place where boats can get fixed and where things can get made et cetera.”
Rodgers’ report acknowledged Tofino has a limited supply of industrial zoned land but suggested much of it is currently used for storage.
“A significant portion of Tofino’s industrial zoned land is not actually used for true industry at this time; it is used for storage which while necessary, does not support the local economy in the same sense as a working brewery,” Rodgers wrote.
“The amendment presented for Council consideration would not reduce the amount of industrial zoned land or supplant an industrial use; it would however support a significant manufacturing operation.”
Baert said the Tofino Business Association is working on an investment readiness report that will provide information on current assets, inviting investment and identifying barriers and she suggested council wait for this report to come in before considering the proposed lounge.
She said the report should be ready within a few months.
Coun. Greg Blanchette argued waiting for the investment readiness report would likely be the type of thing the report would caution against.
“In terms of investment readiness, I would think two of the primary qualities would be: a certain nimbleness and openness to new ideas and an ability to react to those fairly quickly rather than turning it into a whole, long, involved rezoning process,” he said.
Blanchette doubted an accessory lounge would have much impact considering the brewery currently operates a tasting area.
“They’re running a 35 seat tasting lounge and I don’t hear any complaints from other lounges in town about unfair competition so I don’t see how this would suddenly create that situation,” he said.
“It’s quite a small use change. If we turn it into a big, months-long, process and debate, I think we’re sending a message to the business and investment community that we’re not open for business; we want things to stay just as they are.”
He suggested putting the question to the community by approving first reading of the required zoning amendment and moving it towards a public hearing.
“I’m very interested in hearing what the community has to say about this. In fact, I really won’t make up my mind about this until I hear what the community has to say…Otherwise we’re just talking in a vacuum,” he said.
“We can go to the lounges in town and the [brewery’s] neighbours and we can get some sense of whether what we’re worried about is, in fact, something we should be worried about or whether it’s a non-issue and we would just be helping out a successful local business to further its expansion plans.”
Baert didn’t like the idea of approving first reading because she believed this would give a false indication to the public.
“Regardless of what people say, there is a momentum that happens. There’s this weight of motion that starts to happen when you approve first reading and the assumption is that you’ve approved [the application],” she said.
“It’s not a, ‘No,’ it’s a, ‘Not now.’ We hear this is in the works, we are mindful of it, we have some other pieces to get in order…there’s a lot more to know and do about Industrial Way before we just start piecing it off for commercial enterprises.”
District CAO Bob MacPherson explained his staff’s support for the brewery’s application.
“Our thinking was they’re competing with other microbrews throughout the province who do have this advantage where people can go and try a couple of different beers and hopefully load a case of beer up with them when they leave,” he said.
“We’re trying to help them be on an even playing field with their competition…We have a business that’s become successful and they’re competing, not with other businesses in Tofino so much although granted they do, but they’re also suppliers to other businesses in Tofino.”
MacPherson added the district could cohost an open house with the applicant and collect public feedback without starting the momentum Baert was concerned about.
Coun. Cathy Thicke cautioned an open house could be cloudy because the feedback would need to focus specifically on the Industrial Way zoning, not the brewery itself.
“We could get 100 people out who say, ‘Oh, I love the brewery,’ well, great, but we’re talking about a zoning amendment to an area of town. That’s the council’s bailiwick. That’s under our jurisdiction, not whether people like it or don’t like it,” she said.
“We need to get this right and we need to be fair and, once we make that decision, there’s no turning back so I want to be there with a full heart.”
Council agreed to postpone any decisions on the brewery’s application until its June 28 regular meeting.