Regulations proposed to control escorts, escort agencies

Escorts and escort agencies should be prohibited from operating in Sylvan Lake, contended Councillor Sean McIntyre

Escorts and escort agencies should be prohibited from operating in Sylvan Lake, contended Councillor Sean McIntyre during debate on changes to the town’s licensing bylaw, Monday night.

He said it’s not a moral issue but one of health and safety. He pointed to another part of the staff recommendation which stated rickshaws and pedicabs should be prohibited from operating in the town’s downtown core because they’d become a public safety issue, delaying traffic in the busy narrow corridor during the heat of the summer season.

Rae Anne Ornella, the town’s licensing officer, said the proposal to impose stringent regulations and licensing fees on escorts and escort agencies was to provide more requirements for them to operate. Currently they could apply for a license and the town would have to grant it. The proposal is for an annual licensing fee of $5,000 for an escort agency and $300 for an escort. That’s considerably higher than other businesses.

Ornella reviewed her lengthy discussion paper in detail before asking councillors to direct administration to proceed with drafting the business licensing bylaw to include unique businesses and prohibit the operation of rickshaws and pedicabs. That motion was passed after considerable discussion with McIntyre and Councillor Rick Grimson voting against it.

“I don’t support escort agencies in our community, or smoke shops, but they’re a fact of life. I suggest we draw up the bylaw, have a public meeting, then make decisions,” said Councillor Ken MacVicar. “For us to sit here and say this is good, this is bad, that’s just a conversation around morality.”

“I think we need to direct staff now instead of open the door and then try to close it again,” replied Mayor Susan Samson.

Under the tourist home category, the proposal is to close a loophole in the current bylaw and require yearly inspections. It defines a tourist home as “a commercial use wherein a dwelling unit is offered for rent to guests for a period of seven days or more, to a maximum of 28 days.”

The report indicated “the purpose of implementing use and licensing regulations for short term rentals was to provide a mechanism for safe and clean private rentals for town tourists.

“Since implementation of this definition, some property owners have used the seven day minimum rental period to avoid licensing their property as a tourist home. Property rental agreements have been written for six days and 23 hours to avoid the seven day clause.”

To further address safety and cleanliness, the town is adding a requirement for annual health and fire inspections prior to operation.

Mobile vending was another hot topic during discussion by councillors.

The proposal from staff was to allow stationery mobile vending where those vendors would be located in two parking spaces on the east border of Centennial Park (40th Street), three stalls in the Centennial Park parking lot at the southeast end, and one spot in the parking lot across from the town office at the west end by the boat.

Travelling mobile business units won’t be allowed because they’d interfere with traffic movement in the downtown area.

“Part of mobile vending is the effect it has on bricks and mortar businesses,” said Councillor Graham Parsons. “The further away from them, to service places that don’t affect bricks and mortar, the better.”

“It’s quite clear there’s a bit of burden in the sense of trying to maintain the areas,” said Councillor Laverne Asselstine, who suggested the town would ultimately have to employ staff to clean up garbage.

He added, “I don’t like the fact they’re taking parking spots.”

Samson suggested work is not complete in the Centennial Park and Lakeshore Drive areas so its premature to allow mobile vending units.

(Asselstine and Samson were the only two opposed to mobile vending units.)

“Mobile vending and pedicabs have the ability to contribute to the culture we’re trying to create,” argued McIntyre. “There’s an opportunity here.”

Then Grimson said, “Let’s get the bylaw together, all inclusive, advertise it and see what happens.”

“I have a real aversion to open the door on rickshaws, pedicabs, because I don’t think we will get them back out,” said Samson. In the end the motion passed supported prohibiting them since half of the councillors supported their inclusion. (Parsons, McIntyre and Grimson) and half didn’t (Samson, Asselstine and MacVicar). Councillor Dale Plante was absent from the meeting.

A category to allow buskers to perform in Centennial Park and Lions Park is also being contemplated.

“To protect the public from potential criminal activities, regulations of pawn shops and second-hand shops can be implemented,” indicated the report. “The association between stolen property, pawn shops and second-hand shops has been a concern for the policing community.” They’ll be addressed with regulations since the town has recently had inquiries about opening those types of businesses.

Staff recommended that no specific regulations be included in the bylaw related to smoke shops since there’s currently a court challenge of a bylaw implemented by St. Albert.

Various municipalities, such as Calgary and Edmonton, have smoke shops operating in their jurisdictions as a ‘retail’ business with no additional regulations, stated the report.

In preparing her report, Ornella said 19 municipalities were surveyed to see how they dealt with unique businesses and some of their information will be incorporated in the bylaw.

The bylaw will now be drafted and presented to council for consideration of first reading. Should first reading be granted the draft bylaw would be posted on the town’s website for comments for four weeks, and an advertisement of “intent to pass a bylaw” published for two consecutive weeks in the Sylvan Lake News.

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