Council to have direct control over adult business locations

Okotoks: Minimum distances recommended, council will have final say

By: Roxanne Blackwell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jul 02, 2014 05:28 pm

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Okotoks town council will have the final say on where adult businesses like erotic clubs, adult video stores, smoke shops and casinos can be located.

Those looking to open up adult-oriented businesses in Okotoks will have to go through some additional red tape after Town Council passed a bylaw giving council direct control over where the businesses can set up.

The first reading of the bylaw back in September 2013 proposed limitations to adult businesses so they could not operate within 200 metres of conflicting establishments such as schools, parks, or public recreational areas. The businesses would have been limited to the south business industrial area, which raised red flags for many residents who were concerned that a concentration of adult businesses in one area would result in red light district.

Instead, council went with an alternative option, which requires future adult business owners to apply to have their land rezoned to direct control. The new bylaw applies to adult mini-theatres, erotic dance clubs, adult video stores, body rub centres with a sexual nature, drug paraphernalia shops, and casinos. Council will consider each application on an individual basis, and they will be subject to public hearings for community input as well.

Coun. Matt Rockley said he felt that direct control was the best option for the town.

“With council being able to look at them on a case-by-case basis because of the controversial nature of these businesses, it allows us to look at each proposal based on its merits and location and gives the opportunity for the community to make its views known,” he said. “That’s far better than the rules and regulations that we had in place previously.”

The need for the bylaw arose after a smoke shop in town opened up next door to Montessori Preschool, causing concern for residents. The new rules will not effect Smoker’s Corner, as it will be grandfathered in under the new bylaw and will remain in its location near the preschool. Previously, adult use businesses had no separate restrictions and were treated the same as any other retail or entertainment business.

Now, when councillors see applications they will make the decision to approve rezoning based on guidelines that recommend minimum distances between the adult business and homes, recreational areas, religious institutions, schools, childcare and child-oriented retail facilities. In addition, the guidelines also suggest keeping 200m between other adult oriented businesses, eliminating the concern of a red light district.

But having the businesses too close together wasn’t the only issue for residents, as many voiced their opposition to having the businesses in town period.

At a public hearing on May 12, council chambers were packed while council heard countless pleas to find a way to keep the businesses out. The Town’s legal advice strongly advised against attempting a ban, as it would ultimately go against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“It’s a difficult thing to ban them completely because they are legal uses in Canada, then it puts the municipality in a perilous legal position to say there’s an absolute prohibition,” said Rockley. “The reality is I don’t see a huge title wave of these types of uses pounding down the door to get into Okotoks. I think things will continue the way they have been.”

Coun. Ed Sands said he felt that the direct control option was the best choice for managing any future conflicts.

“An interesting irony is that as we try to limit undesirable uses, we were painted with the brush that we were trying to introduce them and nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “As we have chosen to grow we unwittingly are about to provide a marketplace for these undesirable community uses. It raises responsibility on this council that as we grow we need to protect this community as well.”

Business owner Jeff Lawrence was pleased with the outcome on June 23, as he had been waiting on the decision for months. Lawrence is the director of Cheap Smokes and Cigars, a tobacco shop that operates numerous locations throughout Alberta. Lawrence had been looking to set up shop in Okotoks, but was lumped in under the proposed bylaw as a “smoke shop.” In the amended version of the approved adult-use bylaw, tobacconists are differentiated from smoke shops, and are not considered to be adult-entertainment.

“I actually am in favour of limiting strip clubs and head shops, but with the stroke of a pen they'd lumped us into that category and clearly we are selling a legal product that’s regulated like crazy and we're not entertainment of any sort,” he said. “We had a location already picked and a lease was on hold, and we ended up losing the space because of the time it took to make a decision. So I'm really glad that it moved forward.”

After sitting through the public hearings and listening to the concerns of residents, Lawrence said he feels that council made the best decision.

“I think it gives them control, it gives them the flexibility to decide so I think that’s a really good idea,” he said. “I think that’s what the town wanted. They didn’t want to set up a ruling that allowed a specific area for them to go, they would rather they didn’t come at all but that’s not necessarily possible, so by allowing them to individually look at it I think it's probably serving their constituents a lot better.”


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