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City sticking with status quo for liquor store approvals

City hall is holding off on creating any more restrictions for new liquor stores in Grande Prairie. Right now there are 33 retail liquor stores in the city, not taking into account off sales and home delivery, which is one for every 1,914 residents.

That’s 1.5 times the provincial average, and the highest amount per capita in Alberta. However, city councillor Rory Tarant argues those numbers don’t show the full picture.

“When you account for the population that’s actually accessing the liquor stores, we’re probably closer to being on par with the provincial average. It’s just we have a significant transient population that comes in… so it just looks like it’s a higher proximity.”

A report by senior planner Dan Whelton says there are a number of factors that add to the large number of liquor stores, including residents from the County shopping in town, Grande Prairie’s young population, and higher prices and taxes in British Columbia bringing people across the border.

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One store owner had approached city council in April asking them to regulate how close liquor stores can be to each other. The City of Edmonton created a bylaw in 2007 that limited the number of liquor stores within 500 metres, but recently loosened the rules as they saw them being abused.

At Tuesday’s community growth committee, councillor Helen Rice proposed having new liquor stores be discretionary in all land use districts, which would would mean they would be approved on a case-by-case basis.

“I think that there’s some strong information to suggest that it’s not uncommon for liquor stores to attract, I’ll say, undesirables and loiterers,” she says. “That would then, if they were in the discretionary category, allow us to put in place enforcement or security systems, as each one is approved, that would reflect the rest of the neighbourhood.”

Rice admits that they could be heading down a “slippery slope” if they start infringing on private, legal enterprises, but adds that council had no issue creating similar proximity rules for adult entertainment locations. Her motion failed and nothing else was proposed.

Tarant says the city recognizes it has an issue with impaired driving and domestic violence related to alcohol abuse, but he doesn’t think capping the number of liquor stores or restricting how close they can be to another will solve the problem.

“I think studies have shown… that more liquor stores you have there is a correlation of fewer driving incidents because people can walk to liquor stores rather than driving to pick up more alcohol.”

He adds that the city will soon be reviewing how it issues business licenses and there’s a possibility of requiring an educational component to those that involve liquor. Rice expects the issue will be brought up again in a year or two.

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