Kurtis Koehler and Michelle Berube, owners of Revelsmoke Glass and Vape, are trying to rally community support in an effort to get before City Council.
Revelsmoke opened Nov 1st, 2018, with the intention of eventually selling cannabis. Koehler and Berube were, at the time, waiting on their application to the Provincial Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB).
B.C. Cannabis retail regulations require applications be sent to LCRB. If approved, they are sent to the municipal government for positive referral, and then are sent back to LCRB for final approval.
On December 11th, 2018, Starbuds, a cannabis franchise, went before council. The owners of Revelsmoke had yet to receive their provincial referral to council.
Due to the close quarters of available spaces downtown (cannabis retailers must be a minimum distances to abide by) Koehler knew Starbuds opening could seriously hinder his own goals. He presented at council, noting he was in the licensing process, already had his store location, and was open and selling other products.
Council gave Starbuds a positive referral.
On April 2nd, Koehler and Berube succeeded in obtaining a referral from the province to the city.
“The City told us we wouldn’t be approved due to the 100 meter minimum distance bylaw, as Starbuds is right around the corner. We were told to fill out a development variance application. Our meeting to get the application didn’t happen until May 15th, due to city staff being on paid leave. We filled out the paperwork and the City let us know they had received the application on May 17th,” explains Koehler.
Koehler felt optimistic. He was happy to compete with Starbuds around the corner. He believed, in his research for the variance, that the bylaws encouraged mom and pop shops over franchises. An active part of the community, Koehler and Berube have been living in Revelstoke for nearly five years.
For whatever reason, Koehler was not put on the council agenda to talk about his variance for May or June.
“It’s just a bit frustrating, because, unlike Starbuds, who got municipal referral in a single meeting, with the variance it will take us three meetings: – one to approve the variance, one for residents to give feedback, and one to approve the referral,” says Koehler. “So it would be really nice to get it started. We keep asking.”
Michael Coulson, a Planning Technician with the City of Revelstoke, noted that they are aware of the application for a variance and that it is currently in processing.
“We are working through a substantial number of applications in order of priority at this time,” he writes. “We will be able to give an update at the end of the next week. The process for a municipality considering a Development Variance Permit is outlined in the BC Local Government Act and includes a ten day notice period for comments from neighbours, and a resolution of Council. We anticipate the notice period to commence in July.”
Government officials have gotten hold of Koehler numerous times to find out the progress of his referral.
“It feels strange that the province gets hold of me about it more than the city does,” he says. “I understand there are staffing issues and that the city has a lot to do, the last thing I want to do is antagonize anyone. But at the same time, this is my livelihood. If I have to change locations, I will likely have to start the entire application process over again, and I spent thousands of dollars doing it the first time.”
Sometimes, he notes, it feels like his high hopes have gotten beaten down.
“The location we have is really well suited for Revelsmoke. It has no windows and is in a basement with street access. It’s discreet,” Koehler says. “Every day I have people coming in wondering when I will be able to sell them cannabis products. Starbuds still isn’t operating, and many of the people who come through my doors use cannabis medically, and they don’t want to have to drive on the highways to go and get it.”
For now, Koehler has his fingers crossed he can get in front of council for July. With Coulson’s comment, it is looking promising.
“If I can get the variance and then the municipal referral, I can hopefully be selling cannabis products at the start of the winter season,” he says. “But it all starts with getting on the council agenda.”