City on firm legal ground regarding methadone clinic zoning bylaw

Prince Albert City Hall -- Herald File Photo

The City of Prince Albert conducted a legal review of pharmacist Amy Lamb’s contention that zoning restrictions on where methadone can be given may be illegal and found that there should be no changes to the current bylaw.

The report was initially placed in the consent agenda for Monday’s Executive Committee Meeting and Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp made a motion that administration draft an amendment to the zoning bylaw regulation to lessen restrictions on methadone dispensary locations.

In November, 2022 Lamb presented to council critical of the zoning restrictions.

“My concern is that this restriction is not evidence based. We’re not making this decision based on evidence of what a healthy community entails and whether or not methadone dispensaries are a part of a healthy community,” Lennox-Zepp said.

“And so reading this report, it is up to us at council, we make this decision via our control of this zoning issue. And so I am hopeful that other members of council may be as concerned as I am that we will want to use evidence-based decisions and restricting methadone dispensaries is just not based in any fact and so I am hopeful that this motion passes,” Lennox-Zepp said.

Lamb’s presentation and correspondence contended that the City’s zoning bylaw, with its restrictions on permitted locations for methadone dispensaries, was “illegal,” inferring that the zoning bylaw restrictions could be legally challenged and determined to be invalid and unenforceable.

The zoning restrictions date back to the regular City Council meeting on October 10, 2017, after learning that methadone clinics fell under the definition of ‘Medical Clinic’ in the Zoning Bylaw, City Council requested a report for consideration to amend the bylaw to restrict methadone clinics within an acceptable distance from residential areas.

A report was provided to Executive Committee on September 17, 2018, and at that time the Committee made the motion to define a separate land use called ‘Methadone Dispensary.’ Methadone Dispensaries were proposed to be included as a discretionary use within all Commercial and Institutional-General zoning districts in the updated Zoning Bylaw, excluding those located within residential areas.

Mayor Greg Dionne was critical of the motion and asked to see what evidence Lennox-Zepp had. Dionne explained that the zoning change for allowing drug stores in neighbourhoods was positive and in his neighbourhood of Crescent Acres the Pharmasave withdrew an application for a methadone clinic.

“He got an indication, his customers said that they’re not going to shop there anymore so he decided to withdraw his application. So that even supports our argument that they are in the right spots

and we don’t have them lining up here saying that we cant find a clinic to get to our methadone, that’s not the case.”

Meeting Chair and Deputy Mayor Blake Edwards also voiced displeasure with the motion. Edwards said that at the time of the original bylaw change he heard from many people that they supported the change.

“This was a large number of people speaking against. We also have to worry about the health of other residents, and that sometimes their words matter as well. So I won’t be supporting.”

According to the report to council upon review of the Zoning Bylaw with the City Solicitor, Administration has re-affirmed that the City’s powers under The Planning and Development Act allow specific zoning decisions to be made regarding methadone dispensaries.

While methadone dispensaries are not permitted in all of the same zoning districts as drug stores, they are also not prohibited; they are accommodated in six zoning districts throughout the city.

City Council can request to change the Zoning Bylaw regulations if they so choose. It should be noted that all self-regulating professions, pharmacy included, are lawfully affected by zoning regulations in one way or another. Land use regulations established under the City’s legislative authority do not encroach on the scope of the provincial regulator for these professions.

The motion was defeated six to three, with Lennox-Zepp, Charlene Miller and Tony Head voting in favour. Dionne then made a motion to receive and file the report.