Norfolk’s 'dry’ and 'damp’ zones under review

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A vote in the rural area surrounding Port Rowan on the question of alcohol sales could be contentious.

Staff and members of Norfolk council are surprised by the level of interest in the matter since the possibility was raised in January.

“I think there are a number of people who are interested in having their voices heard,” Ward 1 Coun. Tom Masschaele said at the Feb. 11 meeting of Norfolk council.

In play is the rural area of the former Township of South Walsingham between Forestry Farm Road and Norfolk Road 23. The zone went dry during Prohibition and has since resisted attempts to undo its status.

The question was put to voters in 1950, 1953, 1956, and 1968. The last vote was 63.4 per cent in favour of the status quo. There hasn’t been a challenge since.

County clerk Andy Grozelle didn’t expect so many to take an interest. In a report to council Feb. 12, Grozelle suggested dry zones are quaint given that cannabis for recreational purposes is legal and alcohol is widely available in nearly all communities.

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“We didn’t think we’d hear a lot of feedback,” Grozelle said. “We live in a world today where we sell beer in corner stores.”

Council directed Mayor Kristal Chopp to write a letter to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs asking the province to update the Liquor Licence Act so municipal councils can decide these matters.

Council also requested an updated report on the alcohol question in Ward 1 and any other area of Norfolk where alcohol sales are restricted. Council wants to see the report in the run-up to the 2022 municipal election. Norfolk council could put the status of these zones to electors as special ballot questions.

Another area under consideration is the section of the former Township of Townsend that was annexed to the former Town of Simcoe many decades ago. This section includes the retail and commercial zone along the north side of the Queensway East.

The zone came to Simcoe with a “damp” designation, meaning the sale of beer and wine are legal but liquor is prohibited.

A plebiscite in Ward 1 would involve nearly 4,000 electors. A dedicated vote would cost about $20,000 while a plebiscite during the municipal ballot, Grozelle said, “would be a drop in the overall election. It wouldn’t require extra funding.”

In his report, Grozelle said he brought the matter to council’s attention because businesses in the dry zone have expressed an interest in stocking alcohol.

“At this time, staff feel it is appropriate for council to advocate with the Ministry (of Municipal Affairs) to allow current councils to repeal ‘dry’ or ‘damp’ areas in effect prior to 1990 by simply bylaw,” Grozelle says.

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