Tofino’s municipal council has held true to its promise to limit its community’s access to alcohol and has opposed a liquor licence application put forward by the town’s newest hotel.
During their last meeting of 2020, Tofino’s municipal council voted unanimously to write a letter urging B.C.’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch to deny Hotel Zed’s application for a liquor primary licence that would allow alcohol to be served in several areas of the hotel daily from 9 a.m. to midnight.
Council first reviewed the hotel’s application for a new liquor primary licence on Oct. 27, though that application initially requested service until 2 a.m., explained Tofino’s manager of protective services Brent Baker during Dec. 8’s meeting.
He said the application initially asked for the licence to cover four sections of the hotel, a lounge with a seating capacity of 69, a mini disco room with a seating capacity of 11, a private dining room with a seating capacity of seven and a psychic room with a seating capacity of four.
He added that, shortly after Oct. 27’s meeting, the hotel requested to change their application from 2 a.m. to midnight and remove the psychic room from the licence.
Hotel Zed is located at 1258 Pacific Rim Highway and opened last year after taking over the property from Jamie’s Rainforest Inn. Baker noted that the new hotel inherited a food-primary liquor licence from Jamie’s that allows liquor to be served with food from 9 a.m. to midnight.
The district had reached out for input from community members and Baker said 22 individuals responded, 16 of whom expressed opposition to the liquor primary licence.
Complementing the community’s concerns was a letter from Medical Health Officer Sandra Allison, who wrote that she had reviewed Tofino’s work towards a municipal alcohol policy and agreed with the steps the district was taking to limit access.
“The critical areas for municipal leaders to consider with regard to policy setting to mitigate alcohol harms in the community include regulating alcohol availability, controlling alcohol pricing, ensuring safer drinking environments and safer communities, limiting alcohol marketing, preventing harms from drunk driving, and advocating for alcohol use prevention,” she wrote. “Specifically, the siting of primary liquor permits would be a decision that community leaders could influence to ensure the community inclusion, safety and sustainability is not compromised by excess alcohol availability.”
Sgt. Todd Pebernat of the Tofino RCMP also weighed in, suggesting the new licence would increase pressures on local police.
“Alcohol consumption is a common denominator in many of the calls for service police respond to on a regular basis. Having an additional establishment to police will no doubt add pressures to the local detachment in the way of calls for service related to disturbances, impaired drivers, and other criminal activity,” Pebernat wrote in a letter to council.
Coun. Duncan McMaster said he was concerned about the hours the hotel requested as well as the potential impacts the new licence could have.
“My attitudes have changed over the years. I am concerned about the community health of this area and I think we have to listen more and more to our health experts,” he said. “I would never be in favour of a total prohibition, but I do tend to be in favour of limiting outlets.”
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Acting mayor Coun. Al Anderson agreed.
“The letters and input that we got from the community, from the neighbours, clearly shows that there’s a lot of concern in the community around the application and the expansion of liquor services, so that weighed heavily certainly into my decision,” he said.
Coun. Tom Stere said he could not support the application due to the community opposition as well as the statements provided by the RCMP and public health officer.
“There were several comments directly related to the potential for noise in the neighbourhood in relation mostly from transiting from the location and the congregation that would occur outside and that the application, in some ways, misrepresented the area as a wilderness area,” he said, noting the hotel is bordered by residential neighbourhoods.
Coun. Dan Law agreed.
“I do agree with the residents that it would increase the noise and increase the impacts on their quality of life in a significant way and I do agree with the general community concerns that the increase of alcohol primary licences here will result in an increase in all of the negative effects of alcohol in our community,” he said.
Coun. Andrea McQuade agreed, but suggested more focus should be put towards the reasoning behind the opposition, specifically the lack of alternative transportation that could lead to impaired driving and the lack of community health resources available to address alcohol concerns.
“This approach cannot be one sided,” she said, adding that council cannot lament over the town’s lack of resources without simultaneously lobbying for improvements in those areas.
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Hotel Zed spokesperson Nikisa Dastmalchian told the Westerly News after council’s decision that the hotel had hoped to obtain the licence so that guests could enjoy casual beverages.
“We have this tiny mini disco that holds just a handful of people and one thing we envisioned was maybe if you’re eloping in Tofino you could use that room to have your first dance and have a glass of champagne in there,” she said.
She added that the hotel is listening to concerns put forward by residents and striving to be a good neighbour.
“We’re here to listen to their feedback and their input. We’re not disappointed and we’re not surprised, we’re just excited for what this space is going to be,” she said.
She said the hotel is now focused on opening its restaurant, which has not yet been named, this spring.
“We have the food primary [liquor] licence as it stands right now, so we’re just really focusing on that. We’re really focusing on what we do have and how great it’s going to be. I really truly believe that Tofitians are going to love this restaurant when it opens,” she said.
“We’re trying to make something that’s really special for visitors to Tofino, but really for the restaurant more importantly we’re trying to make something that’s really special to the locals…When we started building this space, the restaurant and the hotel lobby, one of the things that came up again and again was that we need somewhere for locals, for the local community to gather, so that’s why we have a giant sunken living room in our lobby and that’s why we’re approaching the restaurant the way we are.”
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She added the hope is to host community events like paint nights and live poetry readings.
“The vision is that it’s somewhere that’s awesome for the locals to go because, as a hotel guest, you want to go somewhere for locals as well. You don’t want to go to a tourist trap, you want to go somewhere that is authentically part of the community and that’s what we’re trying to build,” she said.