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Cool reception to medical pot bylaw

District of Sechelt

There appears to be little appetite among the public for the District of Sechelt’s proposed bylaw to restrict medical marijuana production to minimum-five-hectare properties in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

About 75 residents attended two sessions at the Seaside Centre on Tuesday to provide feedback on the proposed bylaw, and several speakers argued the ALR was not a suitable location for large-scale commercial grow-ops.

West Sechelt farmer Jon Bell said he agreed with the Agricultural Land Commission’s ruling that medical marijuana is a crop — but only, Bell said, if it’s field-grown or grown in a greenhouse surrounded by fences.

“I do have a problem with the buildings that would be put into the ALR,” he said. “What I’m asking for is those bunkers, if you will, those commercial buildings, not to be placed in the ALR.”

Given the uncertain economics of pot production, he predicted the buildings would end up “being welding shops or maintenance vehicle facilities or warehouses or God knows what,” and the proposed bylaw “would basically pull those pieces of property out of the ALR.”

Bell said he spoke the day before with five individuals living on agricultural land in the District and none felt the “Health Canada-approved, bunker-type building would be acceptable in the ALR. They all wanted them on industrial land, and that’s where these buildings should be.”

Len Werden, president of Seashore Organic Medicine Inc., said he concurred the ALR should be off limits.

“There’s no way on God’s green Earth that I’d want to see us do anything on agricultural land other than growing food for our communities,” he said.

Werden’s company has acquired a property in the light industrial park on Sechelt Inlet Crescent in West Porpoise Bay, but has not yet obtained a federal licence or development or building permits from the District.

Citing issues such as waste disposal and security, he said, “I don’t think you want to have this anywhere else but in an industrial park.”

Walter Tripp, an agricultural landowner in West Sechelt, said he was in favour of medical pot being grown in the ALR, “but only where you’ve got large areas where you can put these things in and they don’t impact on your neighbours.”

ALR properties in West Sechelt are “essentially estate acreages,” Tripp said. “And if one of these things goes in next door to you … it’s going to make your property unsaleable. Nobody’s going to want it.”

He said the value of adjacent properties in Shawnigan Lake near Duncan decreased by 20 per cent after a licensed facility came in.

In the District, Tripp said he’d like to see the minimum parcel size “made basically so large that the only place you could put it in the ALR is on that piece of wooded property that’s behind the airport, because that way it’s going to impact literally on nobody.”

Resident Marc Nixon said he didn’t particularly care whether facilities are allowed on industrial land or in the ALR, since “the most important thing is setbacks from neighbours.”

Nixon said he would like to see a minimum setback of 60 metres from the lot line of adjacent properties and a minimum of 500 metres from residences or schools.

Nixon listed a host of issues surrounding large-scale grow-ops, including “lawsuits from the unknown,” and said one area that should be regulated by the District is odour control.

Several speakers said they opposed the new federal rules that required medical cannabis to be grown inside large, corporate facilities and raised concerns about water consumption, waste and wastewater disposal and other technical issues.

One speaker said he “wondered about the sanity of our council” to consider allowing “paramilitary buildings” in the District, and a woman asked, “Why do we need to build giant facilities when we can validate what is already being done?”

Assistant fire chief Trevor Pike said the Sechelt department supports the new federal regulations because licensed facilities must be built to code and can be inspected, making it safer for firefighters, building occupants and neighbours.

Asked by resident Fin Anthony for his view on medical marijuana, Mayor Bruce Milne said he was elected to represent the community’s views and balance them to the best of his abilities, not to present his personal views.

“That’s the last thing I want to do. And if I, in fact, start to put my own views and my own self-interest first, call me on it. Call me loud, call me in the papers, call me on the radio, call me out,” Milne said to applause during the afternoon session.

District staff will summarize the public feedback to inform council’s review of the proposed zoning amendment bylaw.

Planner Angela Letman said the draft bylaw would likely come back to council in late May, with a public hearing in early June.

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