News / Calgary

Calgary’s plan to limit liquor store proliferation lacks teeth: International Ave BRZ

Calgary has seen an explosion of liquor stores since Alberta privatized the sale of alcohol in 1993, according to a city report, with the number of retail outlets shooting up from 25 then to more than 340 today.

“I remember how crazy it was back in ’93 – everyone and their dog was opening up a liquor store,” said Alison Karim-McSwiney, executive director of the International Avenue BRZ, an organization that has recently fought to stop about a half dozen more stores from opening up in the Forest Lawn area.

A new proposal to further limit the ability for new stores to open in areas already saturated with retail liquor sales is being considered by city council this week, and while Karim-McSwiney said it “couldn’t hurt” the BRZ’s efforts, it really won’t amount to much, as written.

“I don’t think this goes far enough,” she said of the proposal, which would effectively tie city planners’ hands when it comes to relaxing the proximity rules for liquor-store applications.

Since 2003, the city has mandated a minimum 300-metre separation between liquor stores and a 150-metre separation between schools and liquor stores, but these rules didn’t apply to certain areas, including downtown and “regional commercial” properties.

Individual applicants could also ask the city to have the rules relaxed for a particular development, but the proposed new bylaw would limit the amount of relaxation to 10 per cent.

That would effectively create a hard proximity limit of 270 metres between existing liquor stores and new ones, and 135 metres between new liquor stores and schools.

The number of liquor stores per capita in Calgary has more than doubled in the past 20 years, city staff note in a report to council, but not everyone is convinced that represents a true “proliferation” of booze sales in Calgary.

Beverly Jarvis of the Urban Development Institute, an advocacy group for the local development industry, noted comparing stores per capita is not the best measure and suggested comparing square footage of liquor-store retail space to population would be more appropriate.

“The government-run liquor stores were generally substantially larger than the typical liquor store that would make up the store count in the current anaylsis,” she said in a written submission to council. “The majority of liquor stores built since privatization are a fraction of the size of the old ALCB (Alberta Liquor Control Board) outlets.”

But Karim-McSwiney said there is “a very significant amount of research” suggesting an overabundance of liquor outlets in close proximity “puts a community a bit at risk.”

“It’s the clutter of the signs and just the image it portrays,” she said. “And frankly, we’re revitalizing the (Forest Lawn) community, so for us it’s very important that we have a variety of stores and not a proliferation of stores that our community feels is not beneficial.”

She wished council would go further in updating its rules.

“Some communities should be able to opt out (of new liquor stores altogether) if they have reasons on why it’s important not to have any more of if they can prove that there is proliferation that has happened,” she said. “I think that would have been a better bylaw.”

 This graph show the absolute number of liquor stores in Calgary (in blue) and the city’s population per liquor store (in red) over the past two decades. (City of Calgary image)

This graph show the absolute number of liquor stores in Calgary (in blue) and the city’s population per liquor store (in red) over the past two decades. (City of Calgary image)

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