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Public asked to comment on second brewery in downtown Sidney

Proponent’s request for parking variance remains stalled
The commercial ground floor of the Oceanna development in Sidney could end up being the site of not one, but two craft breweries. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

The public will get a chance to comment on plans for what would be the second brewery in downtown Sidney, as the municipality and applicants continue to discuss parking.

Council on Monday unanimously asked staff to start soliciting public input on plans by Small Gods Brewery to open a craft brewery with lounge area in the so-called Oceanna building at 9837 Third St.

The proposed business, headed by the wife-husband team of Sierra Skye Gemma and Chris Bjerrisgaard – familiar figures in the provincial brewing industry – would be located two doors from Beacon Brewing, which expects to open later this summer. Councillors supported that business’ application after gathering public input.

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While only the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch can approve or deny applications, municipalities can shape them by signalling support or opposition after gathering the views of the public. Council generally supported the Small Gods application, but differed on the question of parking, in a separate vote.

The proposal calls for the conversion of four underground parking spaces into production space, but only Coun. Sara Duncan supported a request to reduce the required payment-in-lieu from $20,000 to $0 per space, arguing that younger entrepreneurs (like the applicants) often struggle with start-up costs.

The applicants said earlier that not having to pay $80,000 would help them with the startup and Duncan pointed out the four spots would not have been available to the public anyway.

Coun. Peter Wainwright said he would not support any variance that extended what he called a parking shortfall.

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“I do appreciate the quality of the commercial tenant and the benefits that could be brought to Sidney,” he said. “And if they were looking to locate in any other building in Sidney and ask for that parking variance, I would not have an objection in principle. But in this location, I do.”

Coun. Terri O’Keeffe disagreed with Duncan that the spots would not have been available to the public, noting the removal still represents four fewer stalls in an area struggling with parking issues, she said. O’Keeffe also dismissed the applicants’ claim of financial hardship.

“It’s a preference thing,” she said, adding the applicants could use other available space for production, but are proposing to use the parking stalls to create more revenue-generating space elsewhere. O’Keeffe questioned whether the applicants even qualified for the payment-in-lieu option.

Of notable interest was the timing of the parking debate, as council had doubled the required payment-in-lieu to $20,000 earlier in the meeting.

Coun. Chad Rintoul’s motion to grant the requested variances at the original rate of $10,000 per space, citing the timing of the application, failed, drawing only support from Duncan.

O’Keeffe said the payment-in-lieu rate was raised precisely to discourage developers from skimping on parking, and for council to flinch on the first subsequent application would set a dangerous precedent. “Everybody will come forward (to get discount).”

Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith also voted against the discount, saying the issue needs to go back to the proponents, who must work with town staff to resolve the matter.

Sending this element of the proposal back to staff and the proponent means the municipality will not advertise the variance request to the public and the applicants do not have to reapply, thereby saving necessary fees.

Notices to the public to submit comments will go out soon. While it is not clear yet when the public may formally speak before council, staff suggested it could happen next month.

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Council has cleared the path for the public to comment on a second brewery in downtown Sidney, the proposed location of which is marked in red. (Courtesy Town of Sidney)