In what had looked like a resolved issue, the municipality has directed a local cidery to undergo further public consultation in its pursuit of a lounge application.
The move – undertaken by the new council – is a reversal of a decision made by the previous council, who, following some changes, voted in support of the Bowen Cider House’s application to the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB) as one of their last acts in their final meeting on Oct. 24. The application was then submitted on Nov. 4.
The change of course comes after six residents of the mid-island neighbourhood wrote letters in the past month urging the current group to reconsider the 5-2 split decision of their predecessors. In the same time frame, five people – many involved with the cidery – either wrote letters or spoke to council offering support to uphold the previous decision.
The cidery’s application is for a liquor licence which would allow them to serve their product in an indoor lounge and outdoor patio. They currently operate a tasting room where their cider can be sampled, and purchased by the bottle to take home or drink at picnic tables on location outside.
October’s decision was split not only among council but among the public as well, including dozens of people who showed up in person to the meeting. Those opposed to the application, which included 21 letters from people within 300 metres of the Cider House compared to three in support (125 letters of support compared to four against were submitted from the rest of Bowen), covered a wide range of concerns, ranging from operating hours to noise to parking.
Chief among the complaints was also the consultation process itself, which consisted of mailouts to neighbours within a 300 metre radius of the cidery at least 10 days in advance of the council meeting. Island community planner Natasha Cheong says this fulfilled the municipality’s public notice obligation under current rules, though staff acknowledged earlier in the Nov. 28 council meeting during a separate item of business that there’s a desire to expand the public consultation process for development related activities on the island.
After taking the raised concerns into consideration, several conditions were established for the cidery’s application during the Oct. 24 meeting, including reducing operating hours, pledging not to have amplified outdoor noise, and agreeing to establish a Good Neighbour Agreement (GNA) similar to the Legion or Bowen Lodge. The former council was confident these moves addressed neighbour concerns and took their feedback into account.
But now, following the new letters received, staff recommended to council that additional public consultation be pursued. Details for what this will be are expected to be brought to the next meeting on Dec. 12. Tentatively, the schedule would require a five week public notice period from Dec. 19 to Jan. 23, which would include an in-person public meeting and drafting of the GNA. The GNA, while agreed to in principle, had not been constructed when the application was sent off to the LCRB, though a final version is not legally necessary for a complete application.
Information collected during this time could then be heard by council during their Jan. 23 meeting, and final comments submitted to the LCRB before a Feb. 2 deadline – additional comments must arrive to the branch within 90 days of the original application date.
New council also debates consultation process
Like their previous counterparts, council were again split on what steps to take. “I’m happy to see this recommendation,” said Coun. Sue Ellen Fast, who voted against endorsing the cidery’s application in October.
“It wasn’t just the trouble about notice… I think this is a good way to go to give the neighbours a voice, and let everybody hear about the issues and to have their suggestions, and have more of a consensus-based process,” said Fast.
The other remaining member of the previous council, Coun. Alison Morse, again held an opposing view to her colleague. “I’m a little perplexed by this whole thing. We had many comments (in October), which we listened to. And I thought we had indicated we had heard them, because the maximum hours of operation were limited… on-site parking only, no off-site parking, and no amplified noise.”
“I thought we had responded to the neighbours’ concerns by putting in those conditions… As far as I can understand the applicants followed all the rules that the municipality and LCRB gave them,” said Morse.
After discussion the viewpoint of more public consultation won out, with council voting 5-2 to accept staff’s recommendation and require the expanded steps. Coun. John Saunders joined Morse in dissent.
Jeannette Langmann from the Cider House had spoken to council earlier in the evening, asking them to stick with the orig - inal decision. “We followed the process, we did due diligence in good faith with our application,” she said, noting the cidery undertook public consultation despite no requirement to do so.
“If there’s a problem with the process don’t penalize us. We feel that public input can be captured within the GNA,” she added.
Following the decision, Langmann expressed the venue’s disappointment in the result during question period. “Obviously we’re very upset… We have done nothing wrong. We’ve never had a complaint, we’ve never had a noise complaint.”
“We were always in favour of an agreement with the neighbourhoods, that was never a problem. We have asked the community to be part of this. We never had a problem with that. We got stuck in the middle of the process, you (council) changed the process but we’re the ones being punished for it,” said Langmann.
Mayor Andrew Leonard agreed the Cider House bore no fault for how the situation has played out. “My takeaway from this evening is the additional public notification and public consultation process is to effectively get the GNA done and off the ground. It was unfortunate that the application was referred to the board without that GNA attached to it,” said the mayor.