A 57,000 square foot medical marijuana research and production facility is being proposed for a lot on Beaver Creek Road. ELENA RARDON PHOTO

Alberni Valley residents pan pot proposal for ALR

Beaver Creek neighbours say cement medical cannabis facility not welcome

Proponents of an industrial medical marijuana production facility in Beaver Creek met with neighbours last week, hoping to start a “two-way dialogue” between facility owners and Beaver Creek residents.

They did not receive the warm welcome they may have hoped for, as more than 20 neighbours showed up to express their disapproval.

The public information session on Tuesday, Jan. 22 followed a Jan. 12 press release, where Premium Cannabis Meds BC announced a state-of-the-art, high security medical marijuana production facility being proposed for a lot on Beaver Creek Road.

The facility will be a 57,000-square-foot medical marijuana research and production facility that represents an investment of $25 million, and the release suggests it will become “one of the region’s largest employers,” with 200-300 jobs. Owner Moni Sadeghi further confirmed on Tuesday that Premium Cannabis Meds BC will be hiring local wherever possible.

The facility will be “totally self-contained and enclosed” with no public access, storefront availability or recreational use of the product. Proponents state that the facility will comply with the stringent requirements of Health Canada and will meet all environmental requirements of the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD).

But for neighbours, the proposal is a land use issue rather than a drug use issue.

The lot is located within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and, according to Sadeghi, was purchased with the understanding that the ACRD cannot prohibit cannabis production in the ALR. A building permit for the project had already been prepared—but not approved—in July 2018, when new policies came down from the provincial government—including an outright moratorium on cement-based, industrial-style cannabis production facilities in the ALR.

READ: Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District considers cannabis use

Now, Premium Cannabis Meds BC is seeking a special use permit from the ACRD in order to proceed with construction. The plant is already under consideration for approval under the Health Canada application process.

Neighbours last week expressed their opinion that the facility is “out of scale” with the rest of the neighbourhood, with concerns around odour, water quality, lights, sound and traffic from the 24-hour shift rotation. Although the proposal promises to bring jobs to the Alberni Valley, Beaver Creek residents are concerned about the long-term environmental effects on the neighbourhood.

“The interests and needs for an industrial production facility are inconsistent with the needs for a rural neighbourhood,” said one neighbour.

ALR land, pointed out one neighbour, is also cheaper and more expansive than industrial land. She is concerned that the proponents are taking advantage of a tax structure meant to benefit families and local farmers.

“They’re following the letter of the law while exploiting the spirit of the law,” she said. “The moratorium was put in place for exactly the situation we are facing right now.”

As well as being located in a rural residential area, the facility is also located across the street from Kackaamin Family Development Centre. Kackaamin (pronounced “cots-common”) is an addiction treatment centre with a focus on family healing and recovery. Kackaamin employs certified addiction counsellors, as well as a full-time school teacher and teacher’s aide, and offers a toddler daycare. Kackaamin is choosing not to release a statement at this point in the development.

During the meeting on Tuesday, one neighbour said she was concerned about the effect on property values. Although Sadeghi said the proposal will have a positive effect on property value, due to a demand for housing, the neighbour disagreed.

“There are really no statistics to reflect the property values,” she said. “My concern is being forced to sell my property to one of your employees…and then having the property values rise.”

Sadeghi pointed out that “having a bunch of drug addicts” nearby has not devalued the property. Several Kackaamin employees left the room following this comment.

In a press release, Premium Cannabis Meds BC has stated that Kackaamin is located “a considerable distance” from the facility, and that “there is absolutely no access to the medical marijuana site by the public.”

In addition, Premium Cannabis Meds BC has stated that the facility will meet all Health Canada requirements with regards to smell and noise. The building will also meet all ACRD development standards and requirements, with a 100 ft. setback from the nearest water source. The facility will use the Beaver Creek water system—equivalent to eight houses.

If the special use permit is not approved by the ACRD, Premium Cannabis Meds BC still has the ability to proceed with medical marijuana grown in-ground or in a greenhouse. According to Sadeghi, this would cause more issues for neighbours than a cement-based facility would.

“We prefer to do it in sealed buildings because it has control over smell, security, air quality,” she explained. “We do have the option of doing the same facility in a greenhouse and we don’t have to go through any of this.”

Developers compared their facility to Tilray Inc., a 60,000 square-foot research and production facility that was constructed in Nanaimo in 2014. The difference, pointed out neighbours, is that Tilray is located in Nanaimo’s Duke Point—surrounded by industry, and not on ALR land.

READ: Nanaimo’s Tilray Inc. briefly the world’s largest cannabis company

One neighbour, James Edwards, said he believes an industrial manufacturing facility does not belong on agricultural land in the middle of a residential zone, producing a controlled substance next to a treatment facility.

“Port Alberni…is a really great place,” he said. “And it is very business friendly. The reality is, you’ve picked a bad spot. I can list half a dozen properties within Port Alberni that are more favourable to this type of industrial land use. You’ve picked a location that is really not suited for the type of use that you’re trying.”

Some neighbours have started a petition, asking that the owners of 7827 Beaver Creek Road not be granted the special non-farming use permit that they have requested. This petition is available for signing at Beaver Creek Market, Full of Beans Play Cafe, Healthy Habits and Kackaamin.

Several ACRD staff members were at the meeting on Tuesday to listen to public input. A report will be passed on to an Agricultural Advisory Committee meeting, then to a meeting of the ACRD board, where a final decision will be made. No date has been set for these meetings yet.



elena.rardon@albernivalleynews.com

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