The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District gave first reading last week to a bylaw that could limit cannabis production in the district, but the board still plans to receive feedback from industry experts and the public before making a final decision.
The ACRD board instructed staff back in August to amend a zoning bylaw to prevent new construction of cement-based buildings for cannabis production.
On Wednesday, Sept. 11, that proposed amendment came back to the board for a vote.
Angie Fernandes, a director with Wild Coast Canna, addressed the board on Wednesday, requesting that the ACRD receive more information from industry experts and have a meaningful consultation with residents before voting.
“This is a complex conversation with multiple concerns, and it’s a new industry,” said Fernandes on Wednesday. “We’re asking for you to work with us…to find a way that we can grow this industry responsibily.”
Wild Coast Canna has proposed a 377,000-square-foot building plus 50-acre outdoor grow operation, the first phase of which is expected to be completed by December 2020. The operation would be located on a plot of land between Great Central Lake Road and Airport Road. Fernandes estimates that the facility could provide between 200 and 300 jobs.
Local residents, however, are concerned about the effect this will have on their rural residential properties.
ACRD directors were torn on the decision.
Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions said she was “very concerned” about the board’s direction.
“This board has been through a public process already,” she said. “This specific property came out zoned appropriate for this use. And now we’re trying to renege and go back on that. I’m really concerned about the message that this sends about doing business with the ACRD.”
Sproat Lake director Penny Cote disagreed, given that most of the public feedback has come from her district.
“Respectfully, the city can do what it wants to do, and we support you,” she said. “We’re asking for support for the rural areas to do what we want. I’m hearing from my community what they want and what they don’t want.”
She pointed out that the original bylaw for cannabis production in the ACRD was made for medical marijuana. “We mirrored that bylaw,” she said. “In my opinion, it was a mistake. We never would have expected to have the size of the application that has come forward with those setbacks and with those regulations.”
Cote added that there is still an opportunity for applicants to build facilities through a variance permit. The new bylaw will set a “boundary” that will allow the ACRD board to make those decisions.
Beaver Creek director John McNabb agreed that a bylaw will give the ACRD more opportunity to review applications and take in public consultation before making decisions.
“I think that this particular option…is about our only tool at the moment,” he said.
A final decision on the bylaw is expected to be made before the end of the year. First, the ACRD will invite industry experts to give their opinions. A public hearing will take place on Nov. 6.