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Pharmacies banned downtown following public hearing

Council has approved third reading of a bylaw to prohibit pharmacies downtown following widespread support from businesses and residents for the ban during a public hearing Monday.

The bylaw calls to remove "pharmacy" and "medical clinic" as uses from the Core Commercial Downtown One Zone, a geographical area running roughly between Grand and Horne Street, and Second to North Railway Avenue.

"Deliberations have decided that downtown revitalization is one of the most important things that we're going to begin during our term," said Mayor Ted Adlem, adding the revitalization plan being developed by staff will be ready by year's end.

The business community spoke in a unanimous voice, with 81 written submissions presented to the district from organizations like the Downtown Business Association, in support of the ban.

"We used to have a methadone pharmacy clinic downtown before. We had a lot of problems," said Carlo Billinger, co-owner of Rex Cox Men's Wear.

Nobody stepped forward to oppose the bylaw except the applicants believed to be the cause for the rushed legislation.

Life Pharmacy Inc. said they purchased the building at 33133 First Ave. with the understanding they would be allowed to open a pharmacy, and that they believe the ban is based on unfounded community rumours that it would be a marijuana clinic and needle exchange.

"The rumours would suggest we would be doing something illegal, and nothing could be further from the truth," said Umesh Raniga, a spokesperson for the company.

He said the application is for a walk-in clinic and pharmacy, providing vaccines, a diabetes clinic, heart clinic, and prescription drugs, including methadone.

Raniga said Life Pharmacy filled out an application April 17 for the pharmacy, prior to the proposed legislation, but deputy chief administrative officer Paul Gipps said that it was considered incomplete.

Raniga further suggested that the legislation would hurt the "marginalized of Mission" and that it was simply pushing the "undesirables" away from the downtown.

"With a council very aggressive in bringing business to Mission, now you're saying you can't bring any new business downtown until your new revitalization plan is in place is a contradiction," said Janet Chalmers.

Ann Harper of the Mission Regional Chamber of Commerce said while she's reluctant to support a bylaw that tells business owners where they can operate, the chamber supports the revitalization vision. In an official statement from the chamber, it requested a compromise by allowing a downtown pharmacy at a minimum of 5,000 square feet of retail space.

Coun. Jenny Stevens said she couldn't support a bylaw that prohibited certain businesses based on their activities, and suggested it might be a contravention of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"We have to respond to the overwhelming concerns of the people who are directly affected, specifically the businesses of Mission," said Coun. Jeff Jewell.

Third reading was approved 5-1, with Stevens being the sole dissenting voice, though most of council expressed similar reservations. Coun. Dave Hensman was absent.

Nanda Sanbandma, a pharmacist with Life Pharmacy, said they have launched a legal challenge against the District of Mission.

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