‘Any size, anywhere’: Councillors hear about liquor store clustering, ask city to mull distance rules

The City of Saskatoon will consider the idea of mandating separation distances between liquor stores, after hearing concerns this week about the recent clustering of alcohol vendors.

Bob Stadnichuk of SGEU Local 6080 — which represents Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority workers — addressed city council’s planning and development committee earlier this week. 

Speaking personally on his own behalf, Stadnichuk said recent changes by the Saskatchewan government have allowed liquor-selling operations to relocate more freely, resulting in a densification of stores.

Stadnichuk pointed to the recent opening of a liquor store in the Superstore on Eighth Street E.

CBC News counted six beer, wine and liquor stores in the 2.3-kilometre stretch of Eighth Street E. from Wiggins Avenue to Circle Drive E., including the new Superstore outlet and a new Co-op liquor store.

A liquor store recently opened in the Superstore on Eighth Street E., joining five others along a 2.3-kilometre stretch of the street. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

“The public has had no say on the resulting issues of density or location,” Stadnichuk said. “Nothing stops a liquor retailer from setting up next to another large retailer or a school, for example.”

He said he’s worried about the potential “social harm” from such densification, and asked the city to consider using its zoning powers to restrict where future liquor stores can locate. 

The city happens to be in the middle of a zoning bylaw review, so councillors on the committee asked the city to take Stadnichuk’s concerns into account and consider “specific classifications of liquor retailers with specific information on separation distances.”

According to the city, liquor stores are allowed in nearly every commercial zoning district. Some “limited” commercial zoning districts, typically located near schools, do allow for convenience stores but not other types of retail stores.

Provincial changes create ‘free-for-all’

Ward 2 Coun. Hilary Gough brought up the idea of separation distances, but added, “Even if this is incorporated….it’s probably not going to achieve everything” in terms of addressing concerns about concentration.  

“One per city block is still a lot of anything,” she said.

Gough also suggested talking with the Saskatchewan government, which regulates the sale of liquor in the province. 

“[Saskatoon] won’t be the only community impacted by the change in their direction on this,” she said.

Mayor Charlie Clark agreed it’s important to talk to the province, saying he’d prefer to do that “before we start trying to go through a process of regulation ourselves.”

One of the provincial changes Stadnichuk mentioned was allowing off-sale liquor operators to sell their permits to other groups, without any restriction on where the new operation can locate.

“This made it possible for interested parties to buy out an existing store and replace it with a new store of any size, anywhere, within the same community,” he said. “The effect of these changes has been to create a free-for-all.”

Nothing’s going to happen right away: the city is hoping to amend its zoning bylaw some time in 2022.