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Sidney council signals support for second downtown brewery

Coun. Sara Duncan uses debate to question the primacy of cars over people
Sidney council signals support for second downtown brewery. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Petr David Josek)

A hearing about the suitability of a second brewery with an attached lounge in downtown Sidney turned into a discussion about parking, with one councillor questioning the perceived primacy of vehicles over people.

Coun. Sara Duncan said she found public opposition to plans by Small Gods Brewery to open a downtown brewery on Third Street distressing.

“And it’s always cars, it’s always about the cars,” she said. “We’ve got something that is coming forward that will bring human beings together and once again, all of the arguments are about where will they park their second car, their boat, their motorhome?” Duncan said at the Sept. 13 hearing.

”Where will the people who drive come from? Well, we just built like 300 new units of residences right downtown for the purpose of making people not have to drive. And then the next thing is, ‘well, they are all retirees.’ Then why are they driving? Why are they commuting?”

Ultimately, arguments for more parking are arguments against more space for people, she said, “because our cars are here. And I can’t really express in words how that continues to feel.”

Duncan’s comments came as council considered an application that received almost 70 pieces of correspondence, many of which expressed concern about parking.

“As it is, parking in downtown Sidney is becoming increasingly difficult,” wrote Joan Fitch, a resident of the mixed commercial-residential development in which the brewery plans to open. “Potentially having 165 people (the maximum number of permissible patrons) and their cars, even allowing for those who walk or cycle and several people arriving in one car, just means that parking for local residents will be more frustrating.”

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Others critical of the proposal expressed concerns about odour from beer production and noise coming from patrons frequenting the ground-level business.

But the project proposed by the wife-husband team of Sierra Skye Gemma and Chris Bjerrisgaard – familiar figures in the provincial brewing industry — also found support from the public and Duncan openly broke a lance for the couple and their business.

“It’s distressing to me that we have decided to scapegoat one business, two human beings for this mis-understanding (concerning parking),” she said. “When we go to parking, this is an emotional argument with our residents every time. And I don’t know how to get around it really because it’s very inter-generational.”

Constituents under 50 don’t understand the argument, she added, noting that “it’s really odd to hear that (parking) is the most important thing and that it is ruining Sidney.”

Younger people like Gemma and Bjerrisgaard add something valuable to Sidney, Duncan said, bringing new residents in, businesses and enthusiasm. “(It’s) a new generation who loves this town, which is what a town actually needs to survive.”

While Small Gods Brewery will be one of the largest establishments downtown, it will not have to supply any parking for would-be customers, said Terri O’Keeffe in agreeing with the concerns. She later addressed Duncan’s comments, saying she was not scapegoating anyone, but rather describing reality.

O’Keeffe acknowledged arguments from Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith and Coun. Peter Wainwright that the business complies with the municipality’s parking bylaw and the previous council created the commercial zoning that would allow the brewery to operate on the site. She also acknowledged Coun. Chad Rintoul’s comment that saying ‘no’ to the brew pub on the grounds of parking would send a fatal signal to the business. But O’Keeffe nonetheless called for more thorough study of the subject.

Ultimately, she and Coun. Barbara Fallot, who had also raised concerns about parking, joined the rest of council in sending an signal of support from Sidney to the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, the ultimate approving authority for the proposed business.

While council’s resolution acknowledged “varied” views, it also said many of the concerns raised by the public can be addressed by the business. Overall, Sidney considers the impact of the business to “be either minimal, or generally positive.”

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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