City ‘caught off guard’ by discovery of unused, still valid retail liquor permits

Prince Albert city council sits in session. -- Herald file photo.

Prince Albert city council is considering new restrictions on liquor retail locations following revelations that the city may soon see an increase in the number of stores.

On Monday, council passed a motion asking city administrations to prepare a zoning bylaw amendment that would require any new retail liquor store to be at least 500 metres away from any other liquor store location. The change would also apply to any potential new cannabis retail locations.

Mayor Greg Dionne brought the motion forward at the tail end of Monday’s meeting. Dionne said the city was “caught off guard” by discovering that a number of unused retail liquor permits were still valid even though the owners were not currently operating a business. That means the City of Prince Albert could end up with more liquor stores, despite successfully lobbying the government not to issue any new permits.

Dionne said the City of Prince Albert has no ability to cap how many retail liquor stores open in the community, however he does want city council to limit where they can and cannot be built.

“We’ve had some movement where private owners are selling their licenses, so even though we’ve asked (for) no new liquor board stores, we are going to get a couple more because they are allowed as of October of last year to buy licenses and relocate them,” Dionne told council. “I’m concerned that we’re going to have a problem where we’re going to have a cluster of them.”

The main concern is Marquis Road, where city council has already approved permits for two retail outlets. Dionne said they’ve already received an offer for a third liquor retail outlet in the area. The news didn’t sit well with some councillors who said there are already too many locations to purchase alcohol.

“We’re trying to do something to reduce problems, and this (additional liquor stores) is just going to create more of them,” said Ward 7 Coun. Dennis Nowoselsky, who argued police were being forced to spend too much time on crimes involving alcohol.

“We have enough (stores),” Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller added. “I believe we do have enough. Per capita, we’re probably overwhelmed with liquor sales.”

Monday’s motion would mean new retail liquor stores would need to be roughly three city blocks away from current ones However, some city councillors wanted to go even further.

City administrators explored the possibility of a 1,000 metre buffer zone between cannabis stores when creating Prince Albert’s new cannabis bylaws. However, city planning director Craig Guidinger said that buffer, when combined with other buffers around parks and schools, meant there would be no place for cannabis stores to set up shop within city limits.

Despite some objections, only one city councillor voted against the motion. Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp argued that no evidence had been presented to show that preventing liquor stores from clustering together would help curb irresponsible behavior or increase public safety.

She also objected to the fact that liquor stores did not face similar restrictions as cannabis stores, and are allowed to operate near parks or schools.

“Why would the distance between retail liquor stores improve our city in any way?” Lennox-Zepp said during the meeting. “We don’t know that. It’s just as possible that having a more centralized location has pros and cons of its own. This is a motion without any evidence to support it.”

The proposed bylaw amendment will have to come back to city council for final approval. In the meantime, city officials have their hands full just trying to determine how many unused by still valid liquor permits are still available in the city.

City manager Jim Toye said he had no information about how many of those permits existed, and suggested the city pursue the matter with the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA). The Prince Albert Daily Herald attempted to contact the SLGA via phone and email on Tuesday without receiving any response. Section 64 of the provincial Alcohol Control Act states that expiration dates are listed on alcohol permits, and that if applicable fees are not paid, the permit expires the following day.

Dionne said he’s not sure how many stagnant licenses still exist in Prince Albert. During the meeting, he said that one from the old Broadway Hotel, which used to be located near the current Prince Albert Fire Hall on 15th Street East, is still valid even though it’s not being used. The Daily Herald was unable to confirm by press time if this was the case.

Editor’s Note: the original version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote to Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick that should have been attributed to Ward 7 Coun. Dennis Nowoselsky. The mistake has since been corrected.