City Liquor Licensing Policy & Process

Liquor licensing involes a balance between business growth and impacts to the community.

Our liquor-primary licensing policy supports responsible liquor-primary licensees who demonstrate a commitment to minimizing the negative impacts of their business operations on the community, and to take action against the liquor-primary licensees whose business operations have a negative impact on the community.

The policy is designed to advise applicants of:

  • The objectives of the City's liquor licensing policy.
  • The evaluation measures and process employed by the City in assessing a liquor-primary application.
  • The City's compliance and enforcement policy.

A. Objectives & Process

The process by which the City reviews liquor-primary applications is described under Liquor Licensing Process & Fees. Most applications require a two-stage evaluation that first involves a community impact assessment followed by a report to and assessment by Victoria City Council. The process used and fees charged are set by City of Victoria Bylaw No. 01-36.

B. Policy Areas

Purpose: Apply policy guidelines that are consistent with area land use plans and the City's strategic objectives.

The liquor licensing evaluation criteria (noted below) employed to assess an application may vary, either by relative weight or emphasis, between different areas of the City. Three distinct policy areas are identified, which are consistent with the regulatory areas shown on the attached map [PDF - 1.8 MB] from the City's draft Noise Bylaw (see Appendix A):

  1. Activity Zone & Downtown Victoria
  2. Intermediate Zone
  3. Quiet Zone

Public consultation required as part of the City's liquor licence application assessment process varies depending upon whether the application is for a new liquor-primary licence or is an amendment to an existing liquor-primary licence. A food-primary licence application that is referred to the City for consideration is also be subject to a public consultation process.

Public consultation for a new liquor-primary licence application involves a hearing before Council to which affected persons are invited through newspaper ads and mailed notices to nearby properties. The cost of this public consultation process is borne by the applicant. Three notification area guidelines are used, which define the area to which notices of public hearing are mailed:

  • Activity Zone & Downtown - Properties within a 100-metre radius of site
  • Intermediate Zone - Properties within a 300-metre radius of site
  • Quiet Zone - Properties within a 500-metre radius of site

Public consultation for an application to amend an existing liquor-primary or food-primary licence involves the solicitation of written comments from properties within 50 metres of the application site. The City mails a notice to these properties and the applicant posts a sign at the entrance to the business for a 30-day period. The comments are appended to the staff report on the application, which is forwarded to Committee of the Whole for Council's consideration. The cost of this public consultation process is borne by the City.

C. Evaluation Criteria

I. Neighbourhood Compatibility

Purpose: To reduce conflicts between liquor-primary businesses and nearby land uses by:

  • Evaluating the compatibility between proposed liquor-primary businesses, existing land uses and future land uses defined in neighbourhood and community plans.,
  • Placing conditions on liquor-primary businesses to reduce their impact on existing land uses.

Liquor-primary businesses generate noise and other "externalities" either directly through their operations (E.g. music) or indirectly through the coming and going of patrons (E.g. shouting, altercations). Significant and persistent noise, inappropriate patron behaviour outside the premises, litter and graffiti may create a community nuisance to which the City will respond. Several unique factors exacerbate the community impact of liquor-primary businesses relative to other types of businesses:

  • Building design
  • Hours of operation
  • Type of entertainment offered
  • The intoxicated state of patrons

A responsible management style, sympathetic building design and the neighbourhood land use context help to mitigate the impact of liquor-primary businesses on neighbours. Council may also recommend that a liquor-primary business' hours of operation be restricted to increase neighbourhood compatibility in an Intermediate or Quiet Zone.

For example, neighbourhood compatibility decreases as the neighbourhood context moves from predominantly noise tolerant (E.g. commercial or industrial) to noise intolerant land uses (E.g. residential). Adjacency to other land uses, measured by distance, is used to estimate neighbourhood compatibility.

  1. Adjacency to properties that are unoccupied during the night.
  2. Adjacency to transient accommodation uses.
  3. Adjacency to residential uses.

II. Economic Impacts

Purpose: To maximize the total economic impacts arising from the liquor-primary business.

Investing in a liquor-primary business involves an investment in capital (a building) and labour (staff). The degree of investment in capital, the resulting demand for labour and the subsequent direct and indirect economic impacts of the business are measures of the community economic impact that may arise from the application.

The labour impact is driven by the size of the proposed licensed establishment, the range of services offered by the establishment (E.g. food, beverage, entertainment) and whether the licensed establishment is a primary or ancillary use (E.g. contrast a stand alone pub versus a pub in a full service hotel).

The varying degrees of anticipated economic impact may be illustrated by comparing the following types of projects in which a liquor primary business is proposed. The projects are ranked from highest to lowest, in terms of their total estimated economic impact on the City:

  1. New multi-use construction (E.g. a hotel or mixed use commercial building)
  2. Heritage building rehabilitation for multi-use (E.g. commercial & residential)
  3. New single-use construction (E.g. a neighbourhood pub)
  4. Renovation of other buildings for single use (E.g. a cabaret).

III. Community Need

Purpose: To assess whether there is a need for additional liquor-primary seating in the proposed location.

The City acknowledges its role as the cultural and entertainment centre of the region and the role that liquor licensed businesses play in creating a vibrant and economically viable downtown. However, Council must address whether there is a need for additional liquor-primary seats in a specific neighbourhood or in the overall community.

Community need is estimated by using two measures:

  • Calculating the current supply of liquor-primary seats within a given area; and
  • Analyzing liquor-related crime statistics within the same area.

There is a direct relationship between the density of liquor primary seats and the number of liquor related criminal incidents (assault, disturbing the peace, drunk in public place, mischief) in a given geographic area. These two measures give an estimate of the community need for additional liquor primary seats in a given area. If an application for new or additional liquor primary seats is in an area where there is a high density of liquor primary seats and a high number of liquor related criminal incidents the application will likely not be supported.

The reference area around an application site that is used to measure the number of liquor primary seats and liquor related criminal incidents is identified as follows:

  1. Quiet Zone - within 500-metre radius of application site.
  2. Intermediate Zone - within 300-metre radius of application site.
  3. Activity Zone & Downtown - within 100-metre radius of application site.

The density of liquor-primary seats is highest in the downtown area (Activity Zone) where demand and the capacity to absorb seats are assumed to be greatest. As a result, the size of the reference area is small. Conversely, in residential areas (Quiet Zone) where the demand for and capacity to absorb liquor-primary seats is less, the reference area is larger.

IV. Compliance History

Purpose: To give greater consideration to liquor-primary applications from experienced business operators who have a good compliance history in the City and in other communities where they do business.

Compliance history is checked by a review of the agencies involved in liquor licensing, law and bylaw enforcement. Questions of interest to the City include:

  • Are there any outstanding liquor licence or bylaw compliance issues with the applicant?
  • What is the applicant's compliance history with respect to LCLB regulations and/or municipal bylaws?

V. Other Factors

Purpose: To ensure that unique factors regarding the application are considered by the City in evaluating the application.

The applicant may have unique circumstances, business plans or measures that are relevant to the City's consideration of their application. Examples may include a voluntary agreement regarding business practices, a business plan catering to a specific market segment or building design measures that reduce external noise.

D. Enforcement Policy

A liquor-primary business must have a City of Victoria Business Licence to lawfully conduct its business. A business licence may be suspended or revoked by Council if a business owner continually operates their business in contravention of City bylaws or other laws governing the conduct of their business.

A new compliance measure implemented by the City requires the licensee to enter into a good neighbour agreement (GNA) as a condition of the City business licence. The agreement specifies a series of measures that the licensee must implement and abide by in their business operations. Failure to abide by the terms of the GNA may also constitute grounds for Council to consider suspending or revoking the business licence.

Bylaw Officers and Victoria City Police will enforce City bylaws and Provincial liquor licensing regulations governing licensees. The City may take enforcement action in concert with, or independent of the Liquor Control & Licensing Branch. The Business Licence Inspector has the authority to suspend a business licence for cause, and is responsible for making recommendations to Council to suspend and/or revoke a business licence.

Liquor Licensing Process & Fees - Bylaw 01-36

Initiating an Application

All applicants for a new liquor licence or a permanent change to an existing liquor licence must first contact the Liquor Control & Licensing Branch (LCLB) to initiate the application process. Only after initiating an application with the LCLB will the City of Victoria consider an application.     View Bylaw [PDF - 813 KB]

Application Fees

The City of Victoria charges the following fees for the assessment of liquor licence applications:

  • Special Occasion Licence $25.00
  • Permanent liquor licence application - Stage 1 $375.00
  • Permanent liquor licence application - Stage 2 $375.00
  • Public consultation process for permanent liquor licence application* City's costs

* The applicant must pay the City's costs for public notification related to any public consultation process required by the Liquor Control and Licensing Act or requested by Council to complete the Council's assessment of a new, permanent liquor licence application. The costs for the public consultation process associated with an application to amend a liquor-primary or food-primary licence are borne by the City.

Stage 1 (Staff Assessment) - Permanent Liquor Licence Application

Stage 1 involves a technical review of the application by City staff (E.g. police, fire, planning & development) and the drafting of the City staff's comments on the application. Stage 1 may identify issues regarding policing, prior licensee conduct, bylaw compliance, site zoning, land use planning, noise & traffic impacts, and parking.

Applicants will have an opportunity to review City staff's comments and their recommendations before advising the City if they wish to proceed to Stage 2 (Council Assessment) and pay the respective fee. If the applicant wishes to proceed, a report is prepared and presented to Council with the application at the next available meeting.

Stage 2 (Council Assessment) - Permanent Liquor Licence Application

Stage 2 consists of Council's consideration of the application, and the accompanying staff report and recommendations. The applicant is usually present at the meeting to provide additional information if requested by Council. The staff report typically contains one of the following recommendations:

  • That Council support the application with or without conditions; or
  • That Council not support the application; or
  • That Council reserves its final decision pending the receipt of information from a public consultation process.

In all cases, Council's decision to either support (with or without conditions) or not support the application is forwarded to the LCLB for final consideration.

Public Consultation - Permanent Liquor Licence Application

There are two forms of public consultation employed in the review of liquor licence applications:

  • Public hearing - required for all new liquor-primary licence applications.
  • Public comments - required for applications to amend a liquor-primary or food-primary licence.

A public hearing before Council that invites residents and property owners to provide written or verbal submissions on the application is mandatory for all new liquor-primary applications. The notice requirement for the public hearing includes newspaper ads and mailed notices to properties located within an area defined by this policy.

The City will solicit public comments regarding the application from properties within a 50-metre radius of the application site. A notice is also posted for 30 days at the entrance to the applicant licensee's business. Written comments on the application are appended to the staff report, which is forwarded for Council's consideration.

Public Consultation Fees

A new liquor-primary application referred to a public hearing has a fee equal to the City's costs for conducting the public consultation process, which is generally in the range of about $1,200 - $1,500.