Rezoning rejection won’t save popular Campbell River watering hole

Willow Point’s ‘Cheers’ closing no matter what city council decides

The Willows Pub will close March 30, whether the impending offer to convert the neighbourhood pub into office space goes through or not.

Sue Thulin, co-owner of the Willows, told council Feb. 4 she wants to retire and asked council to approve a change to the city’s official community plan to permit the re-zoning of the property.

“I am turning 64 and it’s time for me to retire,” Thulin said during last week’s public hearing at city hall. “Having this amendment approved allows the sale of the pub to complete and after 27 years, have a life that isn’t all about work.”

The Willows Pub was first put on the market in February 2013 and listed for $1.3 million for the land, buildings and business.

After little interest, the asking price was reduced to $1.19 million on August 30, 2013.

Now, log broker Storey Creek Trading, which rents space in Willow Point, is offering to purchase the entire property and all of the buildings, conditional on council approving a re-zoning to permit office use.

That hasn’t sat well with neighbours who don’t want to see their neighbourhood pub go. Several people wrote letters to council against the re-zoning while 73 residents and 11 non-residents signed an online petition opposing the sale. But at last week’s public hearing into the re-zoning, seven people spoke in favour of allowing the re-zoning while two spoke against the proposal.

Willows Pub employee Tracey Ordano tried to set the record straight that the pub will close whether the re-zoning, and subsequent sale, goes through or not and scuttling the re-zoning is only keeping hard-working people from retiring.

“Some of you are here because you don’t want to lose the Cheers pub atmosphere that the Willows is so famous for, where everyone knows your name, what you like to drink, we know a little bit about you and we care about you,” Ordano said. “I am certain that there are customers here tonight who feel that by not supporting the OCP (official community plan) and stopping the sale of the pub that it will make a difference and stay business as usual. This is not the case and if you want us to stay business as usual then you have to put your money where your mouth is and buy the Willows to remain the Willows.”

Ordano also warned council that if the sale does not go through, the city will be left with an empty building which could quickly become a problem for the Rockland neighbourhood.

“The building, unused, is a perfect, and I mean perfect, opportunity for taggers, long boarders and drug trafficking as it will sit empty,” Ordano added. “Imagine how nice that will look in no time.

“This family (the Thulins) has contributed to the community in so many ways and who are you, we, us, Facebook and a misinformed petition to stand in the way of allowing these kind and giving Campbell Riverites from retiring.”

Others who spoke, including Spirit Square co-ordinator Jim Creighton and former council candidate Sterling Campbell, also supported the Thulins and asked council to re-consider the official community plan, which designates the pub property for community use.

Thulin, who noted that nearly 30 years ago there was a petition to keep the pub from opening, said it’s ironic that now there’s a petition circulating to keep the pub from closing. She wondered why all those who are protesting have not come forward.

“I apologize if this sounds crass but with all the daily flack this offer has generated, if so many people think it should remain a pub then why don’t they buy it,” Thulin said.

Susan Bennett, a nearby resident, said she hates to see the pub go but she doesn’t have the means to keep it going.

“My wish is it would remain a pub and someone would come forward and purchase it, I’m not one that can do that,” said Bennett who added she also doesn’t want a derelict building in her neighbourhood. “I do have a concern of the building being left empty. So I guess my feelings are a bit conflicting.”

City council will have the final say when the official community plan amendment comes up for third reading. The plan will first have to be amended before a re-zoning can be voted on by council. Staff told council at a meeting Jan. 21 that the entire process could take two to three months. If the sale does go through, Storey Creek Trading plans to renovate the Willows Pub so that the building will look similar to Beyond Beautiful Smiles in Willow Point.

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