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City backs off so-called 'nuisance' bylaw

Langley City Council has backed off plans to ban so-called nuisance businesses from its half of the Willowbrook Shopping Centre.

At its March 5 meeting council gave first and second reading to a bylaw which sought to ban adult entertainment stores, adult theatres, adult video stores, arcades, body rub parlours, cheque cashing establishments, currency exchanges, escort services, exotic entertainment, money lending establishments, and pawnbrokers from the C3 (Willowbrook Mall) zone — the only area within the City where these businesses are currently permitted to open if they are not currently operating.

However, the receipt of a pair of letters caused several councillors to take a long second look at the bylaw on Monday night.

In a March 16 letter, Willowbrook Mall representatives asked that council amend the bylaw to allow cheque cashing establishments, currency exchanges and arcades.

A letter signed by a Robert Bittner, however, took council to task over the entire list of banned enterprises.

“I find it rather disconcerting that the City is maneuvering into a position to start making moral judgments that affect the residents of Langley City,” he wrote, in a letter dated March 7.

“If the City begins to prohibit these establishments, it becomes an issue of local government getting involved in the bedrooms of its citizens. Why should adults not be allowed to enhance their own sexual activities without the City council becoming involved?”

“Are we making moral judgments? In this case, I think we are,” said Councillor Gayle Martin, acknowledging Bittner’s letter had given her pause.

Martin suggested the bylaw be amended to remove any reference to adult-oriented theatres, entertainment or video stores.

“I support Councillor Martin’s amendment but, frankly, I’d like to see the whole thing wiped out,” said Councillor Jack Arnold.

“We have picked out things we think are morally wrong, such as paying too much to cash a cheque.

“Basically all these things are not illegal, federally.

“We’re making a decision about how people should live their lives,” said Arnold.

“We’re not saying ‘You can’t drive too fast and hurt people.’ We’re saying, ‘You can’t go to an arcade and play pinball.’

“That’s too far.”

“We said at one time we wanted to have the ability to restrict activities to certain zones. We said people could do this in this particular zone — the C3,” said Councillor Dave Hall.

“How many applications did we have in the C3 for (services) listed as banned? There weren’t any.”

So, why restrict it further, Hall wondered.

The bylaw which permitted the City to restrict ‘nuisance’ activities to a single zone within the City was based on 1998 case law, which directed cities to designate land use, explained City planner Gerald Minchuk. By only allowing them in the C3 commercial zone, such businesses would be prevented from opening in the downtown core.

However new case law states the city may prohibit nuisance uses in all zones, he continued. So the new bylaw was drafted and presented to council for its consideration.

“Just because we’re legally allowed to do it, doesn’t mean we have to do it,” said Martin.

After toying with the idea of sending the bylaw back to staff for another look, council decided in the end to give third and final readings to the first two sections of the bylaw which deal with zoning for community centres, off-street parking and the illegal culture and sale of marijuana, heroin injection and methadone dispensing within the City.

The bylaw, as it passed — with only Arnold opposed — also prohibits “teen dance events other than those held in schools, churches and community centres” from operating on all City of Langley land.

It effectively closes the door on another teen dance club, similar to one which operated out of the former Legion building for several months last year.

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