Concerns continue over adult businesses
Okotoks: Public will continue to get its say at June 23 hearing
By: Roxanne Blackwell
| Posted: Wednesday, May 21, 2014 06:00 am
Okotoks town council are no closer to a decision on a new bylaw that would see minimum distances put in place between adult businesses and child-oriented areas such as playgrounds and schools.
A public hearing on May 12 was packed with concerned residents who spent nearly two hours voicing their qualms with the bylaw. Due to such a large response, council has decided to extend the public hearing to June 23 so more written feedback can be collected in addition to another opportunity for residents to speak with council.
During a previous open house in April, residents were overwhelmingly in favour of finding a way to ban adult use businesses altogether rather than impose a minimum distance, a sentiment that was echoed again at the public hearing.
Resident Michael Gund spoke against the bylaw, telling council if the bylaw passes, he felt it would be the Town’s way of welcoming adult businesses into the area.
“What it’s saying is we accept these exist and we’re going to allow them in our town. We’re now forced to accept it,” he said. “We just don’t want these to be coming into contact with our families. From what you’ve heard, people don’t want this, so find a way to make it happen.”
Many residents said they feared Okotoks’ reputation of being a family friendly community would be ruined. Some residents were even moved to tears as they voiced their concerns.
“I’m not only offended by these things coming into the community, I’m frightened,” Ellen Crowfoot said to council.
Mayor Bill Robertson said he was impressed to see such a large turnout at the public hearing.
“In all my years in council there aren’t very many issues in council that have elicited this much passion and real feelings,” he said.
Okotoks development officer Colleen Thome presented an updated report to council, and noted that after the open house in April, the Town sought legal advice on the possibility of using the land use bylaw to ban adult businesses in Okotoks. Thome’s report suggested that banning the businesses altogether was not recommended, as it would open the Town to legal vulnerability.
In response to hearing that a ban was not recommended, nearly every resident that spoke urged council to increase the distance from 200 metres to 750m, if not farther.
“If legal council is not recommending banning them, I would support 750 metres,” said resident Doug Campbell. “If we could go farther than that, I would support that too.”
Many hoped council would find a way to put up as much red tape for the businesses to go through when trying to set up in Okotoks. Resident Douglas Raynor spoke against the bylaw, and on top of voicing his concerns, recommended that council put restrictions in business licences rather than land use if it hopes to find a way to ban the businesses from the town.
“It just seems to me that this is the wrong tool to use to get the result you want. We want to respect the values of the community so we have to hold businesses accountable,” he said.
In the report presented to council, business licensing was addressed, noting that regulations could allow specific limitations such as hours of operation or window displays. Raynor said he hopes council finds a way to re-examine the licences and find a way to ban the businesses.
“I would like to see some moral leadership and moral courage and council stepping out of the box and doing something a bit different,” he said.
Town administration will consider the feedback from the public and prepare another report to discuss at the June 23 public hearing. Mayor Robertson said there are many factors to consider before the bylaw is either thrown out or passed.
“Administration has been asked to research a bunch of things and between now and then people might come up with some ideas,” he said. “There were a number of things proposed, there’s a lot to mull over in my mind.”