City of Whitehorse staff are recommending council just say no to the rezoning for a proposed cannabis shop.
At Whitehorse city council’s Oct. 3 meeting, city planner Mathieu Marois recommended that council defeat the proposed rezoning of 2220 Second Ave. at second reading. The recommendation follows a public hearing in September on the proposed change for the former Marble Slab ice cream shop.
A total of eight presentations were made during the public hearing, including from proponents Jordan Stackhouse and Daniel Schneider detailing their plans. Other presenters expressed their opposition, many noting the close proximity to the Individual Learning Centre (ILC), daycares, parks and other locales that attract children and youth. Another 52 written submissions also came into the city. A total of 33 of those indicated support for the Community Cannabis store to open, while 19 stated opposition or concerns.
Stackhouse and Schneider have told council they have already signed a five-year lease for the space. It was only after signing they learned the building did not comply with the 150-metre buffer required from schools, given the proximity of the nearby ILC at NVD Place at Ogilvie Street and Fourth Avenue. The ILC offers an alternative high school program to youth ages 16 to 21 and is defined as a secondary school under the Education Act.
As Marois summarized in his report to council, the proponents had issues with the inaccuracy of a cannabis buffer map published by the city showing the location as being outside the school buffer area.
“The proponent also raised that they had discussed the inaccuracy with city staff who acknowledged the error,” he said. “The map has since been revised to show the proposed site as being within the school buffer.”
Marois went on to state the city’s webpage makes it clear the map is for reference only and potential applicants should contact permitting authorities to ensure they receive accurate information, such as the Yukon Liquor Corporation for complete information on school buffers.
The report highlights concerns that came forward on the proposed rezoning, including the proximity to the ILC, safety, as well as consistency between regulations among others.
Many who were opposed to the rezoning argued having a cannabis shop close to a school normalizes and increases exposure of cannabis use and could have a negative impact on students.
Other issues were also brought up about the proximity of liquor sales to the school, the proximity of the shop to Shipyards Park, which now features a playground structure, and inconsistencies between city buffers of a minimum 100 metres (from cannabis shops to park sites with playgrounds) and Yukon government established buffers of 150 metres between cannabis shops and schools.
In coming to its recommendation to defeat the rezoning at second reading, Marois noted the city considered the ILC’s status as a school designated for at-risk youth; the intent of the Cannabis Control and Regulation Act to protect youth; the lack of “sufficient information” to determine the impact of a reduced buffer; and upcoming reviews of the city zoning bylaw, the territory’s Cannabis Control and Regulation Act as well as the federal Cannabis Act.
He also pointed out that moving forward with the change could set a precedent for other potential cannabis stores.
Coun. Kirk Cameron took issue with the proposed recommendation, arguing a more neutral stance should be brought forward that would move the rezoning to second reading. Council could then approve or defeat it.
He also commented that the issue of youth safety is one that should be considered by the Yukon Liquor Corp. when it is considering licensing a store, rather than the city looking at it as part of zoning, which he suggested should be more about land use.
Cameron went on to question why the administrative report described the ILC as providing education to “at-risk youth.”
While Cameron pointed out that nowhere on the school’s website is “at-risk youth” mentioned and his visit to the school showed students who had made a decision to work towards getting their high school diploma, Marois explained the term came out of a number of presentations made to the city about the ILC as well as other information the city has received about the school.
Coun. Michelle Friesen also raised questions about how input to council is factored in, highlighting the Facebook post that was put up and taken down within 24 hours by Schneider offering a “hug or discount” for support of the rezoning. The proponents have acknowledged the posting as a mistake, Friesen said, but a number of what appeared to be form letters expressing support came in to the city shortly after the post was put up.
Marois replied that the letters of support did not make note of any Facebook post and, thus, all submissions have been treated equally.
Council will vote on second reading Oct. 11.
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