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 However, the bylaws are out of date.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.