Ordered by a judge this summer to ask its citizens if they want a cannabis shop on the main street, the Town of Sidney has done an about-face and given a green light for the retailer to open after a significant show of public support.
Council voted 6 to 1 to support the cannabis shop on Beacon Avenue this week, after hearing more than 350 written and oral comments — 90 per cent of which were in favour of Brad Styles and Cindy Pendergast opening the business.
The decision ended a bumpy two-year ride for the couple, who filed a lawsuit against the town over a spat about window coverings and faced a backlash over its proposed name — Happy Buddha Cannabis — on religious grounds, and from others for its location on the town’s prominent retail walk.
The province had approved a licence for Styles and Pendergast in January 2019, but the business needed approval from council. Monday’s council vote reversed a 4-3 decision against the couple 11 months ago.
“It feels amazing … finally, we can get down to business,” Pendergast said in an interview. “We always knew the support was there to open. People really wanted us here. We heard that months and months ago.”
Pendergast said they will be renaming the shop and aim to open Nov. 1. The plan is to flip a coin on two new name choices: Long Shot Cannabis or Prohibition Cannabis.
Styles and Pendergast have a five-year lease on an 1,100-square-foot space at 2410 Beacon Ave., but had not been able to open the store because it could not get approvals from council due to conflicting window-design directives.
Provincial legislation initially said windows in cannabis stores had to be opaque, so people passing by couldn’t see through them, although in June, the province changed the rules to permit transparent windows.
The opaque-window rule was at odds with Sidney’s desire to have transparent windows along Beacon Avenue. Pendergast took the town to court to challenge its decision.
In July, B.C. Supreme Court judge Jennifer Power ruled that Sidney’s decision was unreasonable and must be set aside because council did not solicit input from nearby residents prior to making its decision, as required by the province. Power said Sidney “must reconsider” and gather views of residents.
A report by town staff presented to council this week said 311 of the responses from the public were in favour of the licence being issued, with 37 opposed. The report noted that not all respondents indicated their places of residence.
The report also said no responses were received from community organizations such as schools, daycares or non-profit organizations.
Town staff said the most common reason cited by respondents opposed to the application is the store’s proposed location on Beacon Avenue, with many saying it should be located on a side street in the downtown.
Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith said his initial decision not to support the proposal had to do with the opaque windows, which were against town bylaws. He said that became a moot point once provincial regulations were changed to allow cannabis retailers to have clear windows.
“The judge made it clear we had to engage,” said McNeil-Smith. “And we did hear from the people.”
The mayor added the stigma against cannabis is rapidly changing after legalization and so many stores now opening in the region under strict guidelines. He also said it’s important to keep shoppers within the town.
On Monday, the only councillor to oppose the cannabis outlet was Terri O’Keefe.
The judge ordered Sidney to pay the legal costs for both sides in the proceedings, though as of Wednesday, McNeil-Smith had not heard how much it will cost the town.
Denny Warner, executive director of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, supported the cannabis shop, saying the applicants were flexible and accommodating, the location meets zoning requirements and the store will fill a vacant space on a street where many have expressed concern about the number of empty storefronts.
“Public support for this specific business, in the proposed location, has been loud and clear.”
Warner said when the chamber polled its members about the application, more than 75 were in favour of it being approved.
The shop will be the first cannabis retailer in Sidney, and the fourth for the Saanich Peninsula.
— With files from Carla Wilson