The lengthy saga over a lounge application at the Bowen Cider House looks to have finally reached a conclusion.
There was frustration from both sides throughout the process as the Cider House and its supporters, along with neighbours concerned about the potential changes, frequently appeared before council and each other in a series of meetings and public consultations.
Last fall the previous municipal council endorsed the cidery’s liquor licence request for an indoor and outdoor lounge, but the case was reopened and a further public consultation period ordered by the current council following further neighbour complaints.
During Monday’s council meeting it was up to the members to decide if they were comfortable with the conditions negotiated in a Good Neighbour Agreement (GNA) earlier this month. The document – similar to existing ones between the Legion or Bowen Lodge and their respective communities – lays out additional terms a business must observe on top of existing provincial or municipal laws, such as special event times and frequency.
Out of the GNA discussions staff developed suggestions for several of the contended topics. Total capacity numbers were reduced to 150 total, with a maximum of 75 on the outdoor lounge – down from the original 265 limit.
Hours of operation were proposed as 10 am to 8 pm Sunday to Thursday, and 10 am to 9 pm Friday and Saturday. Liquor licence hours were suggested as 9 am to 10 pm Sunday to Thursday, and 9 am to 11 pm Friday and Saturday. The reason for the slightly longer licencing hours, despite the fact the cidery usually won’t be open then, is to allow for alcohol service during special events when they may be operating outside normal business hours.
Like other venues on the island, the GNA offers the cidery the opportunity for 10 special events a year, each of which require municipal approval.
Final public commentary on the matter
The Jan. 23 meeting once again began with several public comments on the issue, including members of the cidery themselves voicing their support. “This has been a very long, exhaustive, and sometimes acrimonious process,” said Cider House operator Alastair Johnstone, though he did note some positives: “we have met many neighbours we did not know, and concerns have been aired that we may not have considered.”
“A GNA has been formulated. While not perfect for either our business or some of the neighbours, it is a workable and living document,” added Johnstone.
Following this a new angle presented itself as a delegation dubbing itself Bowen Cider House Neighbours, led by John Dumbrille and Stefan Klopp, gave a data-driven presentation on why they felt capacity numbers should be lower than the requested amount, citing stats from other cideries in the province. The delegation stated they were in favour of the cidery’s lounge application as a whole, but felt capacity should be in the 80-100 person range rather than the 150 suggested in the GNA.
Island planner Natasha Cheong presented council with the results of the second public consultation process, including the Jan. 11 GNA public meeting attended by around two dozen people. Resolutions were generally found on many of the sticking points such as noise, parking capacity, and operating hours. As pointed out by the evening’s delegation however, a gap remained on views toward in-person capacity.
Along with the GNA public meeting another mailout took place within a 300 metre radius of the Cider House. Eleven houses wrote back letters of support and eight homes asked for more restrictions, mainly regarding capacity. Outside the 300 metre zone, 17 letters of support were received for the cidery.
Councillors weigh in again
Coun. Sue Ellen Fast – one of two councillors to vote against endorsing the lounge application initially – wasn’t swayed by the suggestions developed during the second round of public consultation. “I think this is an event facility, not a farm… On the one hand it’s being framed as farm-to-table… but what it looks like is an event facility primarily,” she said.
“I think having an event facility that is in the middle of the island in our quiet rural neighbourhood… it’s going to be very difficult to maintain our rural character. I think the scale is wrong,” said Fast.
In an attempt to limit capacity Fast moved a motion that total capacity be capped at 60 people with outdoor capacity at a maximum of 20. The motion found no support among fellow councillors however and failed.
Overall councillors thought the recent round of discussions had yielded fair results. “I feel what we’re doing here is speculating on how much noise and disruption there’s going to be. It’s never actually happened there,” said Coun. Tim Wake, noting the Noise Control Bylaw will be in effect.
“We don’t have the incidents that everyone’s describing in terms of 150 people just breaking loose and going berserk,” said Coun. Judith Gedye.
Regarding the GNA, Gedye said “I don’t think that everybody’s happy, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the test… I think we’ve covered as many of the possible concerns that it’s humanly possible at this point to cover.”
Coun. John Saunders says he doesn’t believe the cidery will be at capacity every day. “Having run a business similar to this I think the owners would be ecstatic if they could get 75 people at any one time in there, never mind 150,” he said.
“We’re all talking about perceptions and what we think may or may not happen. I think this is a pretty appropriate approach that is being taken here,” said Saunders.
A vote to endorse the new rules passed 6-1, with Fast in opposition. A subsequent vote to extend operating hours – at the request of the cidery – passed 5-2 with Fast and Mayor Andrew Leonard opposed. The decisions will be sent to the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch for final approval.
The operating hours will now be Sunday to Thursday from 9 am to 9 pm, with the outdoor lounge closing at 8 pm, and Friday and Saturday from 9 am to 10 pm, with the outdoor lounge closing at 9 pm. The Cider House indicated this will allow greater flexibility for offering a breakfast and dinner service.
The only remaining loose ends include water and septic checks by Vancouver Coastal Health, and the results of a proposed lighting amendment introduced by Fast, similar to the municipal Dark Skies Bylaw. The latter point will return to the next council as not enough was known about the specifics of the bylaw.