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Willows Pub sale could be held up by red tape

A pending sale on the Willows Pub could be held up. - Kristen Douglas/The Mirror
A pending sale on the Willows Pub could be held up.
— image credit: Kristen Douglas/The Mirror

Bureaucratic red tape could delay the sale of the Willows Pub on Rockland Road.

Council, which was in support of granting a re-zoning change to allow the building to be turned into office space, was dismayed to learn Tuesday night that the process could take more than a month.

That’s because the city’s sustainable official community plan locks the property in as a site that can only be used for community use. In order to change that, council will need to make an amendment to the plan, which can be a lengthy process.

Ross Blackwell, the city’s land use manager, told council that following third reading on the re-zoning, staff will have to make the changes to the sustainable official community plan, then council will have to pass first and second reading on those changes, hold a public hearing, then pass third and fourth reading before they can be adopted.

Coun. Andy Adams wasn’t impressed to hear it would take so long.

“What options may be available to us to expedite the process?” Adams asked.

Blackwell replied that council could schedule special meetings of council.

If council keeps to its existing meeting schedule, it could be at least six weeks before everything is complete, as council meets every two weeks. That would mean the re-zoning and official community plan amendment wouldn’t be approved until April 1. The closing date for the sale of the Willows Pub to log broker Storey Creek Trading is March 31.

That concerned Mayor Walter Jakeway.

“That’s going to take quite awhile, we’re holding up the seller and the buyer for a long time and for a third public hearing seems incredibly ridiculous,” Jakeway said.

Council already held a public hearing Feb. 4 for the re-zoning portion of the application.

Council heard from pub co-owner Sue Thulin that even if the re-zoning doesn’t go through, the pub will be closing March 30 as it’s time for her to retire.

Coun. Claire Moglove said after listening carefully to the comments made at the public hearing and reading through all of the correspondence council has received, she supports the re-zoning to accommodate the sale of the pub.

“It appears to me that the vast majority of people who were in opposition to the re-zoning were opposed on the basis that they wanted the pub to stay open,” Moglove said. “I think this is obviously an irrelevant consideration on this application…and the fact of the matter is the pub is closing no matter what. Having said that, where I struggled is the SOCP (sustainable official community plan) aspect of things.”

But Moglove said one e-mail she received particularly resonated with her. The writer noted that in a perfect world council could follow the official community plan to the letter, however, this is the real world, with real people, and the decisions council makes affects them.

“We have an existing business that is no longer viable and this is another way to have that building used,” Moglove added. “Is it the perfect use? In my view, absolutely not. But it’s not a negative use. I don’t think it adds to the neighbourhood but I don’t think it detracts from the neighbourhood.”

Coun. Andy Adams was firmly on side of the re-zoning, and quoted a city staff report to make his point.

“What it goes on to say is that ‘from a technical perspective there’s no material consideration to justify a departure from the established policy at this site,’” Adams quoted. “While I can certainly appreciate and agree with that context, from a common sense perspective, there is no consideration that justifies denying this application.”

Adams said he also didn’t agree that an amendment needed to be made to the official community plan, and that a spot re-zoning could suffice.

Adams concluded that the “options for best use must be taken into consideration” and that the offer on the table “makes good use of the existing structure.”

In the end, council approved third reading of the re-zoning and directed staff to make the necessary changes to the community plan and report back with the changes as soon as possible so council can give them first and second reading.

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