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Edmonton Looking to Loosen Brewery Rules

Want to see more places like this on Edmonton’s high traffic zones?

A draft report soon to go to Edmonton City Council proposes amending Edmonton’s development by-laws to allow small breweries in a broader range of locations. I won’t tell you how I got my hands on the document but I can tell you that, in general, it seems like a good idea.

The review that sparks the report comes out of frustration from a growing number of aspiring brewers who are currently not allowed to locate their breweries in places where they can take advantage of foot traffic and general people movement.

Currently breweries are restricted to areas zoned as industrial, a policy harking back to the days when the only breweries that could open were sizeable operations. In practice that means a brewery can’t open in a commercial zone which, by definition, is where you find most people. Today provincial rules allow small breweries to open, meaning a scale that could be completely compatible with commercial zoning. However, the bylaws are out of date.

Commercial districts are places like Whyte Avenue, 124 Street, and other areas that emphasize restaurants, retail stores and similar businesses. Placing a small brewery or brewpub is completely compatible with the current usage of those streets. The issue is a lingering stereotype that breweries are large, smelly, loud and not attractive. The reality, of course, is not true, but sometimes it takes time to get lawmakers up to speed.

The problem is highlighted by the struggles Situation Brewing had to locate in the Whyte Avenue area. Their project was delayed by months while they persuaded city officials to allow them to open a brewpub/brewery in this high-traffic commercial zone. Some one-time exceptions allowed Situation to open, but the problem remains.

However the draft report I procured recommends a series of changes to the zoning rules to allow breweries to open in commercial areas. The highlights include:

  • making breweries, wineries and distilleries a discretionary use in commercial zones. (They continue to be prohibited in residential areas.)
  • Brewery licenses will be limited to serving their own product. However, the brewery will be allowed to also have a restaurant/bar license attached which can serve other alcohol products.
  • The rules seem to restrict the size of the brewery to 80 sq. metres (c. 860 sq. ft.), although there are contradictory statements in the report.
  • The brewery will have to meet parking requirements, which is pretty standard for commercial zoning.

Obviously we have a long way to go before we have an official by-law. But, for what it is worth, here is my take on the draft report.

First and foremost it is a good idea to allow breweries in commercial zones. It  reflects the changing nature of the beer industry and that increasingly breweries are street front operations. Second, I also like that they adopt a fairly simple approach to regulating the location of breweries. Calgary’s bylaw (read about it here), while laudable, has a number of complex requirements that, I think, might prove to be troublesome in the future.

I do get a bit worried about declaring alcohol production as a discretionary use. It places a fair bit of power in the hands of individual development officers. An old-school officer might give a proposed brewery a great deal of grief before/if granting approval. Making breweries discretionary requires that development officers are educated about breweries and realize their inherent compatibility (especially at a small scale) with that zoning purpose. We need to make sure there aren’t unnecessary roadblocks to the brewery, including unfounded concerns such as smell, traffic, drunkenness and so on (none of which have proven an issue in other cities).

Third, we need to clarify and possibly amend the size requirements. I appreciate the city doesn’t want a large production facility – say a second Big Rock location – to open in a commercial district. That is not an appropriate use of that space. They want smaller breweries focused on serving the local community, which is totally fair. But is 80 sq. metres enough? That isn’t much larger than a central city home. I am not an expert on this, but my gut tells me that size limitation could create some issues for a proposed brewery. It is not a deal killer, but something I hope Council considers when it comes before them.

In general, I am very pleased to see the City of Edmonton moving forward on this initiative. A brewery friendly development policy is long overdue.

I am not sure when the report goes to Council, but I assume in the next couple months. So, this might be a good time to call your City Councillor to encourage them to support a bylaw making it easier to open a small, locally-focused brewery in our town.

It is, after all, the first step to trying to become one of those cities we all admire for their beer culture.

7 comments to Edmonton Looking to Loosen Brewery Rules

  • Addison

    Parking requirements for a place whose entire purpose is to serve alcohol seems an awful lot like the city condoning drinking and driving.

  • This would be a fantastic change. Looking at the boom in breweries province wide, it seems to me that certainly one issue holding Edmonton back is the municipal rules surrounding breweries in commercial zones. Fewer hoops, please.

  • Squared

    There’s tons of micro/nano breweries on the west coast in the USA. They have tons of foot traffic and produce “just enough” to have a get it while it’s still on tap exclusivity. These are literally what we’d consider holes in the wall here. I love that culture and would love to see that in edmonton

  • Chris

    Seriously Addison? Have you heard of moderation? Perhaps you have a consumption problem, but there are plenty of people (myself included) that are capable of going to a brewery or brewpub and stopping after one pint. Not to mention that a breweries primary purpose isn’t to sell alcohol, it’s to produce alcohol, and offer a space for people to try the product.

    As to the size issue, using Situation and Brewsters as exemplars, both have brewhouses significantly larger than 80 sq. metres. I’d guess situation is closer to 200 sq metres, maybe more. I’d guess that some closer to double that size would be more reasonable, and still not be imposing on a commercial street.

    • Addison

      The city is requiring that people be able to drive to a place where alcohol is served. That’s condoning drinking and driving. Plain and simple, this has nothing to do with my non-existent problem or whatever other crap you want to make up about me. If you can’t make a point without trolling maybe don’t bother.

  • Now now Chris and Addison you both seem like reasonable people. Lets try and vent our frustrations to good use like E Mailing our MLA’s in Edmonton and the Federalies in Ottawa to try and end this dumb Inter Provincial Free Trade Agreement and be a solid country. What they want is for us folks to argue amongst ourselves while they do nothing and continue talking so THEY can keep their jobs and never resolve anything. Sadly that’s what’s happening and it’s costing us more. The lawyers will benefit the most AGAIN. Merci and thanks for listening. BURP

  • Pooga

    If a Development Officer denies a discretionary use, the applicant may appeal to the Municipal Planning Commission. They review the application at a public meeting. A recommendation is then made to City Council.

    In Saskatoon, the Commission consists of 13 members appointed by Council, including:
    •One representative of City Council;
    •One representative of the Public School Board;
    •One representative of St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Separate School Division, No. 20;
    •Ten residents who are not employees of the City of Saskatoon;
    •Realtors are not eligible for appointment to the Municipal Planning Commission.

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