City staff outline how commercial development works in Fort St. John in wake of proposal to move liquor store

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FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — In the wake of a proposal to move a liquor store to a residential neighbourhood on the northeast side of Fort St. John, city staff say they’ve encountered some misinformation about how commercial development proposals are handled.

City Planner Ashley Murphy said that municipal planning can be confusing and complicated for residents to understand, because of the amount of legislation that planners need to adhere to. Murphy explained that the City never approaches prospective developers about plans or ideas to develop a certain piece of property, as that would be seen as a conflict of interest.

Regarding the application by the owner of On The Rocks to build a liquor store on the corner lot at the intersection of 86th St. and 112th Ave., Murphy said that the applicant discussed his ideas with staff, and provided two proposed site plans. The first site plan was preferred by the applicant but did not fully conform to the City’s requirements, while the second was fully compliant with the City’s criteria.

“That’s how we have two site plans for this,” said Murphy. “Because we had these two site plans, we legally cannot present a bylaw to Council that has two site plans on it. We can only present one of those, and Council has the option to amend it if they want. The initial report to Council was just to let us know if they even wanted a liquor store on this property. Council decided, ‘Yes, come back with a report that would consider permitting a liquor store on this property.’ That was the report that went to Council on the 27th.”

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Murphy explained that the recommendation in that report was to refuse the application based on planners’ findings after reviewing the City’s Official Community Plan and zoning bylaws.

“If there are policies, or rationales, or the zoning regulations are generally supportive of that use, then it typically would lead us to a recommendation to support. In this case, the OCP and zoning bylaws did not support this kind of amendment in this area. No matter what we recommend as staff, Council is the ultimate deciding authority. In this instance, they decided that they wanted to hear the public’s input on this application. The alternative recommendation that they went forward with was the smaller of the two site plans the applicant had submitted. That is the one that will be discussed at the public meeting on Monday.”

The City’s Director of Legislative Services Janet Prestley explained that the owner of On The Rocks is actually applying to be able to build a liquor store at the proposed lot to replace the current liquor store that is located in the Northgate Mall.

“It’s an existing license, what he wants to do is move locations,” said Prestley. “It’s an existing liquor license. He wants to move to this location, but he wants to put a convenience store in as well. Technically if he wanted to, rather than doing a convenience/liquor store he could build a pub and there wouldn’t be anything that anyone could say about it because it’s a permitted use in that zone. Although the public would have the opportunity to comment on the liquor primary application that would be required for a liquor establishment.”

The City is holding a public hearing to hear from area residents about their thoughts on the proposed liquor/convenience store at City Hall on Monday, December 11th, starting at 6:00 p.m.

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