The City of Campbell River has decided it needs more time and information before considering the approval of a controversial liquor license transfer from the old Voodoo Lounge on Ironwood Street to the old Acklands Granger building in Campbellton.
As first reported in the Campbell River Mirror last week, the proposed license transfer first came to light when the city circulated a letter to the neighbours that the proposal would be going before council this week, spawning not-insignificant public pushback, including a neighbourhood petition in opposition to the plan. Some of those who had signed it also spoke in opposition on Monday night, saying the area has “finally” become a place where they will be comfortable raising their kids, and they think a “liquor-primary” establishment will negatively impact that comfort.
But the proponent, represented by Ken McEachnie – who will manage the venue – says the public perception of what the facility will be is incorrect.
While the neighbours – along with the RCMP, which has also expressed its concern with the proposal – “have very real concerns,” McEachnie says, that a nightclub is trying to open up in their backyard, the venue will actually be more akin to the Tidemark Theatre or Sid Williams Theatre in Courtenay than to the old Quinsam Hotel or Voodoo Lounge.
It will only be open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, McEachnie told council, and possibly be used as a rental facility for school reunions, wedding receptions and other events on the other days of the week. He says they would possibly look to open their kitchen, “which is going to be an old-style, brick-oven, wood-fed stove, open for serving up authentic Italian pizzas and other dishes available for take-out services, seven days a week,” but they have no intention of being a night club, as they want to “enhance the community,” rather than infringe on it, McEachnie says.
“I wouldn’t want a night club in my back yard, either,” he admits, saying he wants to create a venue that will attract people to come from outside the community to see a show, visit a local restaurant and possibly book a hotel room to stay the night, adding to the local economy, as well.
The problem, according to city council, is that’s not what the application reflects.
The “liquor-primary” license transfer in its current form would allow the facility to be open and serving alcohol from noon to 2 a.m., seven days a week. If the applicant truly only wants to be open on Thursday-Saturday nights, that’s what the license should be for, council says.
Also, if the license was transferred in its current form to the new building, any potential future operator – or even the applicant himself – would have the option to turn the building into a full-time night club without the city having any say in that, despite what the intention for the building was when the transfer took place, because all the city technically gets a say in is hours of operation, capacity and zoning – which is already in place.
Coun. Michele Babchuk said she, too, was under the impression before the meeting that the business was to be a night club, and she was prepared to vote in opposition to the transfer if that was the case. After hearing McEachnie’s presentation, however, she says she wants to see his vision for the facility come to the area.
“I love arts and culture in our community, and I believe that’s where you’re coming at this from,” Babchuk says. “I just think we need to be able to come to some sort of compromise so the application you’re applying for reflects the business that you’re looking at opening.”
McEachnie says he’s more than happy to adjust the application with the BC Liquor Control Branch to reflect the actual vision they see for the facility, including hours of operation, but the current license they are looking to transfer and renew is set to expire mid-February, so he asked that the city send a letter requesting an extension to that license so they will have time for those discussions without having to start over from scratch, as well as address any of the neighbourhood concerns surrounding the business.
The city agreed to that request, and says it will continue to work with the applicant on how he can move forward with his vision while offering the community some assurances that they won’t – and will never – end up with a party in their backyard until 2 a.m. seven days a week.