The Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) should not rush ahead with a bylaw to restrict medical marijuana production facilities to large rural lots, but should also allow smaller scale grow operations under any new zoning rules that are adopted.
That was the message SCRD officials heard when more than a dozen residents came out March 11 for a public hearing on a zoning bylaw amendment that would permit medical pot production only on rural lots in the RU2 and RU3 zones that are eight hectares (20 acres) or more.
Staff drafted the bylaw in light of Health Canada's stated aim to shift the medical marijuana program to large-scale commercial production facilities, but has since started preparing a separate bylaw that would allow smaller scale operations on smaller agricultural parcels.
"We don't have a position that big is necessarily bad," senior planner David Rafael said. "What we do want is for the next set of bylaws to better reflect the needs of the community."
At the hearing, several residents said large-scale operations would more likely use pesticides and be less environmentally sustainable than smaller facilities that often grow organic marijuana.
They also said the bylaw discriminates against existing small-scale operations that provide important economic benefits to the community and supply a vital medical product to patients.
The Roberts Creek official community plan committee backed that position in a letter received at the hearing.
"We support non-industrial operations that maintain rural character in rural neighbourhoods," committee members wrote. "It is our opinion that agriculture is fundamental to the land use of these properties and that the warehouse model of marijuana production is not the best method for our community."
SCRD directors were set to consider the new bylaw on March 20 for third reading and possible adoption by the board.
With the bylaw for small-scale operations not expected to be passed until September, and Health Canada's new medical marijuana rules taking effect April 1, staff were recommending the large-lot bylaw be approved, noting that growers can apply for spot zoning at any time.
Without any zoning bylaw on the books, Rafael said in a report to the planning and development committee, the gap "would allow for an unknown number of facilities to become established in locations that may not be supported by the communities in which they are located. There would be little if any opportunity for community input about such facilities."
Facilities authorized by Health Canada but established without zoning in place would become "grandfathered" as lawful, non-conforming uses after bylaws are adopted, he said.
Meanwhile, no objections were raised at the March 12 public hearing for the SCRD's first medical marijuana spot-zoning request, to allow Richnor Recycling to operate a large-scale production facility on Horsethief Road, south of Hillside Industrial Park, in Port Mellon.
Speaking at the hearing, applicant Chris Danroth said the facility would employ between 20 and 30 people and would be a good fit for the area, staff reported.
The application was also set to come back to the planning and development committee on March 20 for potential approval at the next board meeting.
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