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Whistlerites weigh in on new liquor licence laws

Survey open until Jan. 2 at midnight

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With hundreds of Whistler businesses now eligible to apply for a liquor licence, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has its work cut out for it in forming a policy.

Under new provincial regulations, any business is eligible to apply for a licence provided it doesn't operate out of a motor vehicle or cater to minors.

But which types of businesses should be considered for liquor licences? What are some of the potential impacts of increasing access to liquor? What conditions should be considered when reviewing applications?

These are the type of questions the RMOW is now posing to the community, through an online survey and at an open house on Dec. 14.

About 25 people showed up for the open house at the Whistler Conference Centre to provide input.

For the most part, those in attendance were in support of allowing all businesses to apply, to be approved on a case-by-case basis.

One regulatory avenue the RMOW is considering is Temporary Use Permits, which would give the municipality more control over who gets a licence and for how long.

Factors like suitability of the space (do they offer room for sitting? Tables? Access to washrooms?) and impact on neighbouring businesses could be taken into consideration in the approval process.

Some of the potential positive impacts voiced by open house attendees included more options for visitors, a more casual atmosphere in line with those in Europe or Asia, fewer lineups during après hours, and a more mature and welcoming environment.

On the flipside, having liquor everywhere could be unwelcoming for those who would rather not be around it, and certain "unscrupulous" operators could abuse the new rules by shifting away from their primary focus.

There was also concern that some retailers could potentially undersell pubs and clubs, offering cheap drinks to get people in the door.

However, all new licence holders would need provincial Serving it Right certification, which educates licensees, managers and servers about their legal responsibilities when serving alcohol, and provides effective techniques to prevent problems related to over-service.

Speaking from a personal point of view, Matt Bennett of Black Tie Ski Rentals said offering liquor could enhance the guest experience for customers.

"It would be great if a guy who just spent $1,500 on his kids' and his family's rentals, when he gets down at the end of the day and kicks off his boots and sits down on the leather couch, I'd love to be able to offer him a beer," he said.

"For my business in particular, we're not looking to compete against establishments that already exist. We don't anticipate people hanging out in there... it's another layer of service that just makes people feel that much more comfortable."

But with a $7,000 application fee and annual payments of $2,400, some felt the costs of applying for a liquor licence could be too prohibitive for many businesses to make it worth it.

There is also a lot of extra work that goes into running a licensed established that some non-traditional businesses may not be aware of, noted Garibaldi Lift Co. manager Mike Wilson.

"I think people who don't know the risks and stress of running a licenced establishment will learn about those," he said.

"Because you may see the money in the numbers, but being responsible for when that person leaves your establishment, and fake IDs, and over serving... there is stress, risk and liability that come with holding a liquor primary licence."

Added Whistler Fire Rescue Service Chief Geoff Playfair: "Yeah, and that's why I think you're going to see a little bit of a bubble at the start and then it will taper out to the ones that are serious about it."

For those who wish to provide feedback but were unable to attend, a survey is available until Jan. 2 at midnight at www.whistler.ca/liquorlicenceopenhouse.

The feedback will be used to form a draft policy, which will be reviewed by the Resort Municipality of Whistler's Liquor Licence Advisory Committee at upcoming meetings in January and February.

The policy will come to council for consideration in late February or early March, with any potential bylaw amendments being developed for Spring 2018.

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