Senior hockey team challenges EZT alcohol policy

The Tavistock Royals are asking for an exemption from the East Zorra-Tavistock alcohol policy. The document, recently approved by members of council, lays the groundwork for booze being consumed on any township-owned property. The main two customers, the Tavistock Royals, and Tavistock Braves, were not asked for input before members of council approved it.

Under the new policy, the team would not be able to serve alcohol, nor have it consumed in the standing room area atop the stands at the Tavistock and District Recreation Centre. Team President Kyle Wynette attended last week’s EZT council meeting asking council to bend their new policy.

He explained the Royals weren’t contacted at any time in the process until they were invited to a review meeting in August when the new rules were already passed. “We were there with other user groups, and that’s where we went through the policy. We required clarification at that point and brought up that it doesn’t allow us to license the existing area we have been using behind the tiered seating.” He added that it becomes a logistical issue since the blueline capacity (in the upper hall) is only 120 people. “Our crowds have been increasing each year, but especially in the playoffs. People like to stand up there. Being able to serve from that location allowed us to accommodate fans better with those larger crowds versus trying to get them through the hallway into the blueline club.” Wynette added it reduced much of the congestion at the top of the stairs. “It’s a lot easier to spread that crowd out.”

In a prepared statement, Karen DePrest, EZT’s CAO, said developing township policy isn’t about user groups. “In all cases, the policy is not created by exception or special interest but rather the greater good of the township as a whole. The policy regarding municipal alcohol is intended to ensure the highest level of risk management and mitigation to protect the township and its ratepayers.”

Mayor Phil Schaefer, also in a prepared statement, echoed DePrest’s comments. “The adoption of a Municipal Alcohol Policy (is a) forward-looking initiative taken by this council. The alcohol policy aims to enhance public safety, as well as providing risk mitigation.”

Another issue the club could potentially face is access to an elevator, which is located between the Blueline club and that standing room in question. Wynette said a regular fan of the Royals needs access to that area, including an accessible bathroom, which could be made more difficult if an exemption isn’t given. As the crowds have grown over the last few years, the team has opened up two serving areas in the upper hall and added the bar near the stairs. Wynette said that has worked well to keep the crowd flowing, and he is concerned the policy could have a negative effect on the club’s bottom line. “We are getting more fans, and they come because of that experience where they have a beer, watch hockey, and don’t have to go to Toronto, Kitchener, or London. It’s a good thing to do in town on a Saturday night.” Wynette added the team put nearly 10,000 fans through the arena without a single alcohol or other incident off the ice. He added he was told the township does not consult the public on these types of policies, but he believes they should have. “We spent $17,000 last year between ice and the boardroom. It affects us substantially, and it caught us off guard.” He added most of the arenas they play in are licensed for alcohol anywhere in the seating and blue line club areas.

DePrest said the document was written after looking at policies of comparable municipalities in conjunction with consultation with councillors and staff. The policy was first presented to council at its regular meeting on April 19 and approved on May 17 after some proposed amendments and an implementation date of September 1 was adopted. “Staff conducted two open house information sessions on August 17 to educate any interested parties on the upcoming policy. East Zorra-Tavistock was one of the last municipalities in Ontario to adopt such a policy,” added DePrest.

EZT Council is expected to announce a decision on the Royals exemption request at their next meeting on October 4 in Innerkip at 9 a.m. Wynette said he’s not sure how the club will handle their liquor license ask for opening night. “When we apply for our license, we can’t really indicate the Blueline extension because it doesn’t align with the municipal alcohol policy, but the LCBO is quick at getting us approved.”

Lee Griffi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Wilmot-Tavistock Gazette