Proposed cannabis production zones within city limits. SCREENSHOT

Port Alberni taking measured approach to cannabis production

City reviewing zoning bylaws after three-month consultation process

The City of Port Alberni is taking a slow and steady approach to cannabis production within city limits.

City council agreed during a meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 12 to wait another two weeks before making any decisions about cannabis production zoning in the city.

City planner Katelym McDougall was in council chambers on Tuesday to provide an overview of the city’s process so far. Over the past three to four months, city staff have been reviewing practices in other communities and working with Vancouver Island University’s Master of Community Planning program to develop a consultation process, which included an online survey, two open houses and an information booth at the fall fair.

VIU’s Dylan Thiessen said that there were about 430 interactions with the public throughout the consultation process.

“Most of which were quite positive,” he added.

There were a number of concerns around odour, noise, air quality and property value, he said, and most of the respondents supported “strict setbacks” from adjacent properties in order to mitigate these concerns.

The planning department recommended that only outdoor small-scale facilities be allowed in agricultural zones, while only indoor small scale facilities will be allowed in service and highway commercial zones. Any type of facility will be allowed in industrial zones, except for large-scale outdoor facilities.

“There might not be a lot of land actually available in the city for that type of activity anyway,” said McDougall.

City staff would like to include strict building setbacks, buffer zones and regulations to help mitigate noise and odour concerns. In addition, any potential developers will be required to obtain a development permit from the city.

“There was a lot of public support for those things and the public seemed to feel more comfortable with the idea of this industry when some of those regulations were in place,” said McDougall.

Over at the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD), conflict between Sproat Lake residents and a potential developer has led the ACRD board to review its own zoning bylaws and consider greater restrictions. The city does not want to end up in the same position.

READ MORE: Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District acts to limit cannabis production

“I think it’s important that we all make sure we’re comfortable with the decisions we’re making,” said Mayor Sharie Minions on Tuesday. “We’ve seen that the regional district ended up not comfortable with how they moved forward and are now wanting to rescind that and start over a new public process.”

She suggested having more discussion and hearing from more members of the public before making a final decision.

A number of councillors also expressed concern about outdoor grow facilities in any zone, and discussed the possibility of prohibiting them entirely.

Haggard said that cannabis is one of the top five future economic generators on Vancouver Island, so the city needs to show support, but also move cautiously to balance the wants and needs of local residents. “We need to capitalize on this emerging trend,” she said. “It will create employment for the community and will also increase our tax base.”

Council agreed on Tuesday to hold another discussion in two weeks before making any decisions on zoning bylaws.

“It’s very easy to agree to it now,” said Minions. “It’s much more difficult to stand firm to it when we have people upset and feeling like their properties are impacted.”

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Port Alberni city planner Katelyn McDougall, right, and planning tech Cara Foden, left, discuss the findings of a cannabis production survey that Vancouver Island University Master of Community Planning director Pam Shaw, second from right, and student Dylan Thiessen helped compile. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

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