Mission council approved a zoning amendment last month that would ban pharmacies and medical clinics from setting up shop in the community's downtown core, at least until downtown revitalization plans are put into place next year.
However, the district is now facing a lawsuit by the party that wanted to open a pharmacy at 33133 First Ave., the former site of the community policing station.
Council made their decision at a special meeting Aug. 9 to support the zoning change, in a 5-2 vote. Opposing the exclusion were councillors Jenny Stevens and Nelson Tilbury. Both councillors were uncomfortable supporting a motion they believe was based on unsupported rumours the proponent intended to sell medical marijuana, and dispense methadone and needles to addicts.
"First of all, every other pharmacy in town can dispense methadone, so that's not new," said Stevens, but she mainly objects to bylaws that target groups or businesses. Mission tried that in 2000, when it proposed 11 bylaws to restrict activities downtown, but all were dropped as they were legally questionable.
"You can't legislate against a group of people, full stop. It's against the Charter of Rights . . . and I'm not prepared to support a bylaw that targets one business, and that's what this bylaw does," she said.
A downtown resident, Stevens added the community, which happens to accommodate low-income seniors and other residents, needed a pharmacy to service the area.
After the vote, Mayor Ted Adlem insisted the zoning change was made in support of reviving the downtown area, not because of rumours. He noted there were other pharmacies at nearby shopping centres.
As the application to renovate the building was made in the spring, talk began to swirl that the proposed pharmacy would dispense methadone, medical marijuana and needles to drug users.
On May 22, the district withheld the building permit until the June 25 public hearing, where council's proposal to amend downtown zoning to exclude pharmacies and medical clinics from Railway, First and Second avenues received at least 78 letters in support, most from downtown businesses and their employees.
When asked by Stevens at the public hearing, Umesh Raniga, a representative of Life Pharmacy Inc. and 0773184 BC Ltd., said the business would not dispense needles or be a methadone clinic.
It was to be a small pharmacy and would offer diabetes, blood pressure and immunization clinics.
Tilbury said he first supported a push by the district and merchants to bar the pharmacy if the owners intended to do something illegal. But he became concerned when he found nothing to support the rumours, yet the proponent was still turned down, after initially being told by district staff he could go ahead with his plan.
"I can't vote in good conscience for something based on a rumour," Tilbury said. As a longtime advocate for small business, "it troubles me that a city would go back on its word," he added.
Dr. Lyndon Balisky, head of the Mission Downtown Business Association, said some MDBA members feared such a methadone dispensary would "attract the wrong type of people," by concentrating vulnerable recovering addicts in the area and drawing in drug dealers that would try to prey on them.
That "would be a business killer" just as the district was trying to revive interest in the area, he said.
However, many local merchants were also concerned that businesses were being restricted downtown, he said.
In the end the MDBA as a group decided to support the zoning amendment and district plans to revive the downtown area.
Adlem has said the district could spend up to $200,000 for revitalization in the downtown core.
District planners and an external consultant will develop the plan, which should be complete by the end of December.
Director of planning Sharon Fletcher said a request for proposals for a consultant should be out this week, with a consultant hired by October.