A contentious application for a cannabis production facility in rural Lumby will be forwarded to the Agricultural Land Commission for final consideration.
Regional District of North Okanagan directors voted 8-5 in favour of a motion to forward an application by Green Amber Corporation to construct a nearly 100,000 square foot facility on a piece of property between Lumby and Cherryville on Shafer Road, off Highway 6, neighbouring a number of rural properties.
Green Amber president Jonathan Fernandes bought the property in June 2017.
Director Rick Fairbairn, whose electoral area D rural Lumby the application sits in, made the motion to forward the application to the ALC.
“I have kept an open mind on this application throughout this process and have been weighing the pros and cons,” said Fairbairn, stating he had received “hundreds of e-mails on the application and while I don’t respond to each of them, I have read them all.
“Many of the concerns I’ve heard about this application can be addressed through site design. When considering concerns, we must also consider the benefits. This application will be an economic driver in our area, bringing construction jobs during the building of the facility and permanent jobs afterward. But what is more important to consider is how this application fits within our policies in the RDNO. This application is compliant with our zoning bylaw. For that reason alone, this application deserves to apply to the ALC.”
Board chair Kevin Acton, Mayor of Lumby, explained to the crowd that filled the RDNO meeting room gallery Wednesday afternoon that the application by Green Amber is a non-farm use application under the Agricultural Land Commission Act. In July 2018, the ALC, he said, issued an Order of Council which effectively banned cement flooring from lawful production of cannabis on agricultural land.
The Green Amber application was midway through the process of acquiring a building permit when the rules changed. If they hadn’t changed, said action, the applicant would have been issued a building permit without any consideration by the board as the application was compliant with the zoning of cannabis as an approved use on Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) land, and that was a decision by the ALC.
Fairbairn and director Christine Fraser of Spallumcheen said it’s the province that should be dealing with the application.
“The ministry (of agriculture) created a huge issue for regional districts and municipalities,” said Fraser, mayor of the township whose own council has dealt with a pair of similar applications. “I really feel for everybody getting caught in this. I don’t feel it’s us at the regional table that should be making this decision. It should be the ALC because they changed the rule in the middle of the game.”
Director Bob Fleming of Electoral Area B BX-Swan Lake disagreed.
“We are in position to make decisions on land use,” he said. “I look at the promotion of health, safety and welfare of the public, the value of land in general, character of land and building, and conservation of property values. Those are three things I circled when we were given a legal opinion on this last week.
“We’ve had enough feedback in each of those areas and this particular proposal does not meet the test for those categories.”
Coldstream director Jim Garlick, mayor of the district, said applications for land exclusion or alternate uses usually have a benefit to agriculture attached to it. He said he didn’t see that with the Green Amber application.
“We could take it at face value and hope there’s a net gain for it but I haven’t read anything in the documentation we’ve received,” said Garlick. “This is still up in the air of what the next process is. Is he going to grow medical marijuana? Is it recreational marijuana? That clarity would be nice to know ahead of time. I think you’re opening a Pandora’s Box into the next part of the process. Having more clarity would be helpful.”
Voting in favour of the application were Fairbairn, Fraser, Area F (rural Enderby) Denis Delisle, Amanda Shatzko (Area C BX-Silver Star), Shirley Fowler (Armstrong) and Vernon directors Victor Cumming and Akbal Mund, and alternate Vernon director Kari Gares.
Vernon director Dalvir Nahal declared a conflict of interest due to stocks she owns, and did not participate in the discussion or vote.
Against the application were Fleming, Garlick, Brian Schreiner (Enderby), Acton and Hank Cameron (area E Cherryville).
Fraser voted to amend Fairbairn’s motion to include all correspondence received from area D residents on the proposal with the application. That was unanimously supported.
After the vote, residents from Shafer Road and area D left the gallery. Outside, Kevin Rouck, who lives on Shafer Road and whose property would border the proposed facility, was bitterly disappointed with the result.
“In my mind, this doesn’t bring any value to agriculture,” said Rouck. “It’s clearly an industrial facility and should be placed there. He (Fernandes) has not clearly stated what he’s going to grow there and yet they (RDNO) have forwarded this to the ALC.”
Fernandes declined to comment on the vote.
The application now rests with the ALC.