By Marianne Cole
I was both surprised and very disappointed by Clearwater County Council’s decision following the public hearing of July 24th to re-designate +/- 40 acres of agricultural land to light industrial. This land is located on the west side of Hwy 22, approximately half a mile north of the junction with SH 587, the Bowden Road. The application for re-designation was being made by Element GP Inc who wishes to establish a 55, 000 square foot micro-climate controlled cannabis production facility on the property.
Council chambers were packed with surrounding neighbors and other county residents. Numerous excellent presentations were given in opposition to the re-designation and an ad hoc show of hands indicated unanimous opposition. Arguments against the change focussed on concerns over loss of agricultural land, water usage, impact on wildlife, quality of life, traffic safety, emergency response times, and reduction of neighboring land values.
What was most surprising and disappointing was the seemingly clear disregard for this council’s own recently established Land Use Bylaw when they voted unanimously to allow the re-designation. (Note: Councillor Laing was absent.) The bylaw governing this proposal had been proactively passed in March 2018 to prevent this very situation of cannabis operations wherever in the county.
There are two applicable clauses in this document. Section 7.12 (1) states, “Clearwater County should direct cannabis production facilities to locate in a business park.” Various presentations noted the availability of industrial lots in the county, most notably the newly developed park in Caroline, a project funded by taxpayer dollars. It would seem fiscally responsible for council to seize the opportunity to retrieve some of those tax dollars by suggesting this potential operation establish there.
Also in the LUB section 7.12 (3) states, “All cannabis production facilities applying for a development permit on an industrial parcel not located within a business park must be located outside of a 300m. radius from a property boundary that has any of the following attributes; a. an existing residence…” With the potential re-designation/new subdivision property line, the facility would be within approximately 150m. of the property boundary that has two residences. Other properties with residences are immediately across the road to the north and east of the proposed site. Clearly this re-designation promotes a direct conflict with the LUB. Note: There is opportunity for this to be rectified with a refusal of the development permit but why would council encourage further time, expense and frustration by all involved when it could have all been solved with the refusal at this public hearing?
It seems council has not only ignored its own guiding documents but also the voice of the people, a cause that was repeatedly touted as being important during last fall’s election campaign.
Wikipedia defines a double standard as “the application of different sets of principles for similar situations.” One is left to wonder, as the process related to the approval of this cannabis production facility proceeds (the subdivision application, and the development permit application) will the guiding documents and earlier valued principles of this council be upheld or will the double standard continue?