Pot shop too close to day care, council says

Lake Country council voted 4-3 on Tuesday night to allow a variance necessary for a cannabis retail store to open in the Turtle Bay shopping centre.

Plans for the Okanagan's inaugural pot shop failed at the first hurdle.

Lake Country town council voted 4-3 this week not to grant a variance that would have allowed the cannabis store to open in the Turtle Bay shopping centre.

Newly adopted town rules require pot shops to be located at least 400 metres from a day care, but the Starbuds store proposed for the strip mall would have been 150 metres from the New Beginnings Early Learning Centre.

A majority of council said that since the town had just implemented the minimum distance, it wouldn't make sense to create an exception for the first application to come along, Mayor James Baker said.

"We'd like to keep the regulations as they are, at least until we know more about how these establishments operate and what their impact is on neighbourhoods," Baker said.

Starbuds has operated in the mall since early this year as a so-called marijuana consultancy. It provided free information about the drug, but did not sell pot.

It was always the owners' intention to transform the store into a retail outlet, pending provincial and local approval, once marijuana was legalized.

Town staff had supported granting the variance, noting among other things that Lake Country does not require stores that sell liquor or tobacco to be located a certain distance away from day cares. Town staff also noted other communities do not have such setbacks.

In their request for the variance, Starbuds' owners suggested their store would have no discernible impact on the operation of the nearby day care.

"I don't think we have to worry about a two-and-a-half year old jumping in a stroller, wheeling themselves across Oceola Road and up the hill, through a parking lot and into the store," owners Celine Fitzgerald and Gavin Meehan wrote in a letter to the town.

But Baker said Starbuds opened earlier this year before council agreed, after a public consultation process, to impose site restrictions for pot shops that included the 400-m minimum distance from day cares.

"The store owners were gambling that they would be able to get a variance, and that gamble hasn't paid off for them," Baker said.

Tuesday's meeting was the first time specific plans for a pot shop have come before an Okanagan council since the drug was legalized in mid-October.

Although he voted against the variance, Baker said he would canvass the three other councillors who also opposed it to see if there's any appetite among them for revisiting the issue within the available 30-day reconsideration window.

For their part, the owners of the New Beginnings Early Learning Centre provided the town with a letter stating they had no objection to the Starbuds opening within the minimum specified distance of 400 metres.

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