By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – About 50 people packed into Morinville Council Chambers Monday night to hear an appeal by Morinville Christian School Principal Lou Brunelle to halt a proposed liquor store to be built at the Shell gas station on 100 Avenue.
Brunelle’s appeal, brought before the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board, challenged the decision of the Municipal Planning Commission to grant a development permit to Guy Meunier for a proposed minor liquor sales and minor eating and drinking establishment.
The school principal said the appeal was not intended to be personal towards Meunier and that he regarded him as a good and decent man who was a good corporate citizen. “I’ve yet to find anybody who has a negative thing to say about Guy,” Brunelle said, adding he and his school would support the local businessman on any other business venture he proposed for the location, but not liquor.
Brunelle said his school, Morinville Christian fellowship and Kangaroos Day Care were all concerned about increased traffic in an already congested area. But traffic was not Brunelle’s only concern with the notion of a liquor establishment close to his school.
“We’re also very, very concerned about the type of business that this is, the danger it presents and the message it sends out to the community,” Brunelle told the appeal board, adding although he was not there to moralize, he believed everyone knows of a family devastated by the ravages of alcohol. “Our primary issue is then with the wisdom, the judgement and the rationale to put a minor liquor sales venue right in the middle of not one but several child and teen institutions used on a daily basis.”
Brunelle said he presumed the decision to allow the development permit was profit driven and did not take into consideration the 55 daycare students, 35 Christian school students and approximately 90 teens who use the youth centre, all of whom are within metres of the proposed venue.
“I don’t believe there is a parent or student or staff member involved with any of these institutions that is comfortable with this proposed business venture in this location,” Brunelle said, adding many are upset and angry that a development permit was granted, some going so far as to boycott the Shell station.
The Christian school principal asked rhetorically if the Town of Morinville would have approved such a venue being developed near Georges P. Vanier, Notre Dame or one of Morinville’s other schools. But beyond any perceived slight against the Christian school, Brunelle questioned what kind of message Morinville was trying to send young families. The principal said with the approval of Meunier’s liquor store and the liquor store scheduled to open in the former Fields Department Store location; Morinville will have five alcohol sales venue, an increase of 66 per cent.
“I think we all like to believe we are a family friendly town with family values,” Brunelle said. “Expanding this particular type of business I find very perplexing and rather disappointing. When you add the other liquor establishments such as Rednex, the Zoo and others, we now have more liquor venues in this town than churches.”
Greg Fraser, the senior pastor at Morinville Christian Fellowship, also spoke against the proposed liquor store. The pastor said his church has created programs for area youth to let them know they are cared for and loved and that there was a God who knew their name and had a purpose and plan for their lives.
“We have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars as a church to reach this community’s youth to help them,” Fraser said, adding nurturing children is important to the church and community. “The thought of putting a liquor store within a few hundred feet of these children seems to be a gross dereliction of our duty to protect them.”
The pastor went on to outline scenarios whereby a drunk driver en route to buy another bottle of vodka ploughed into a group of unsuspecting children on their way from the splash park, adults buying liquor for underage drinkers or a drunk teenager accosting a group of 12-year-old girls. Fraser said he was not being overly dramatic in presenting the scenarios, but felt to discount their possibility would be overly naïve.
Other speakers opposing the liquor venue ranged from general concerns about increased traffic to a former RCMP officer equating the selling of alcohol so close to a school with the selling of illegal narcotics near a school yard.
As for Guy Meunier himself, the long-time businessman said he would run the liquor business as he had run his existing business and that in 15 years his company had been caught selling cigarettes to a minor only once, a remarkable accomplishment in the industry. Meunier said he had followed all the procedures properly in applying for the permit and that he intended to follow all the rules and regulations of Alberta Gaming and Liquor. Meunier said he would be happy to work with the church to educate and make people aware of the dangers of alcohols
The businessman said he felt somewhat targeted given the fact alcohol was available at Rednex and two nearby restaurants already.
The SDAB is expected to make a ruling on the appeal within two weeks. Brunelle is set to make a presentation before Morinville Town Council Tuesday night.