A public hearing on Feb. 6 concerning the relocation of a BC Liquor Store in Creekside turned out to be far more controversial than council expected.
The hearing was in relation to a rezoning application from Creekside Plaza Ltd., that seeks to relocate the liquor store from Franz's Trail to the Creekside Plaza across the street as part of a larger rejuvenation project for two properties at 2010 and 2011 Innsbruck Dr.
Proponents argued the liquor store would serve as an anchor tenant and draw more business to the Plaza, into which they have invested $1.3 million since 2010.
But for one hour and 20 minutes Tuesday night, a steady stream of commenters took to the podium at the Maury Young Arts Centre to voice some thoughts of their own.
THE CASE AGAINST/ALL IN FAVOUR
When it was all said and done, 16 different people said their piece at the public hearing (and several more than once), with the vast majority speaking against the proposal.
Many of those to speak against voiced similar concerns: more foot traffic crossing Lake Placid Road raises safety issues; parking at Creekside Plaza is already an issue, and will only worsen with the move; and the current location near the Creekside Market is much more convenient for locals and visitors alike.
Almost everyone who spoke against the rezoning said they were in favour of the rejuvenation itself, just not the relocation of the liquor store.
"We've got something that works, it functions well, and to move the liquor store across the street, it seems to be a real step backwards," said Creekside resident Mark Sager.
"To see the old Boston Pizza site redeveloped is great, but please don't do it at the expense of the village that's working, and already, I think, has too many vacancies."
In the eyes of Roland's Beer and Wine Store across the highway, the move is a predatory attempt by BC Liquor to swallow the private competition.
"It will basically put us on an unlevel playing field, and make it very, very difficult — almost impossible — to compete," said Lance Bright, director of Snowsun Ventures Ltd., which operates the store.
Only three speakers spoke in favour of the move, including proponent Dan Jekubik (though five people also wrote letters in support, along with one from the Liquor Distribution Branch).
Those who voiced support praised the proposal's plan to add much-needed employee housing (four units for staff on site) as part of the deal, in particular.
"We feel (the proposal) can kick start the whole area and create some vibrancy that is currently lacking," Jekubik said.
"Although I wish all the best to Franz's Trail, as a successful Franz's Trail would help all of Creekside, their problems are difficult to solve and can't be fixed with the retention of one tenant, especially when that tenant is forced to stay in an oversized unit with longstanding challenges with visibility and access."
In a letter of support, Jason Ho, director of real estate for the Liquor Distribution Branch, cited those same issues as reasons for the move.
"This move will allow us to continue to service the needs and also further enhance the shopping experience for both our existing and potential customers," Ho wrote.
NEW OWNERSHIP ON FRANZ'S TRAIL
One surprise speaker at the hearing was Ray Zage, who along with his wife Kaori purchased Franz's Trail in November under their company BTC Ltd.
Zage said he made the trip from his home in Singapore to speak at the public hearing.
"Just as a basic consumer observation and safety observation, I don't really see any reasons why this move makes sense," Zage said, adding that he reached out to BC Liquor on several occasions and was "mildly baffled" by the benefits they saw in relocating.
"I really don't understand any of the commercial logic of the move, and I'd say it's not particularly helpful during a period where Creekside Village needs its own renovation, and needs to fill a lot of vacant space."
The Zages have owned a home in Creekside since 2008, and bought Franz's Trail from Imperium Blue (which purchased the real estate from Florida-based CNL Lifestyle Properties last year) after the company reached out to Ray through a mutual acquaintance in Atlanta gauging his interest in a joint venture on the property.
"I said, 'look, the simple reality is I do joint ventures for a living, and (in this case) I'm a bad joint venture partner, because I'm not really interested in this because I think it's going to be a great real estate investment — I'm interested in just making it better,'" Zage told mayor and council.
Reached by phone in Singapore the day before the hearing, Kaori detailed some of the family's plans for the area.
"In order to rejuvenate Creekside, it's not just Franz's Trail. We need to work together with the mountain, we need to work with the other businesses in Creekside, we're working very closely with Lodging Ovations as well, and getting feedback as to what needs to go into Creekside to make it vibrant and a place that people want to come and hang out," said Kaori, managing director of BTC Ltd.
With the Zages opening their own store in Creekside in December — Get the Goods — there are still five empty units on Franz's Trail, Kaori said.
For now, the new owners are shying away from chain restaurants, and trying to find a mix that will appeal to both locals and international visitors.
Finding the right tenant mix for the area will be a deliberative process.
"The emphasis is that we want it to be more (food and beverage), and we want to work more closely with Vail Resorts and understand their plans for the mountain as well... we view this as more of working together with everybody involved in the current tenant mix to make sure that it works for a new business to go in," Kaori said.
"I am very cognizant of the fact that we can't bring in another business that's going to cannibalize someone else's business, so just thinking through that is really important as well."
The rezoning bylaw for Creekside Plaza will come back to council for third reading at an upcoming council meeting.