Mayor Janice Brown’s stomach was still turning Wednesday morning and she was still worked up from the night before.
The Township of Spallumcheen hosted an overflow crowd at its committee of the whole meeting Tuesday, on-hand to hear Kelowna-based Valens Agritech’s presentation on building a large facility on Pleasant Valley Road to grow marijuana.
“It’s like telling someone they’re building a prison next door,” said Brown of Valens’ proposal. “You’ve got people living in a rural community that has had alfalfa in the fields, and all of a sudden they’re getting a 40,000-square-foot building with barbed-wire fence and security, and we’re saying, ‘it’s OK, it’s OK.’”
“It’s been a criminal activity for 20 years and all of a sudden we’re saying, ‘It’s a plant. It’s OK. It’s no different than growing a tulip.’ These people (residents) are upset.”
Brown said in her community, which is more than 50 per cent farmland, the township has 12 letters of intent from cannabis places looking to build. The Right To Farm Act, she said, allows cannabis to be grown on farmland.
“The only thing we have control over is what we’re doing. The Right To Farm Act is clear, they have a right to farm, and there are only certain things we are allowed to do,” said Brown. “They answer to the province, Interior Health, the ALC (Agricultural Land Commission), they don’t answer to us.
“Our role as a municipality is making sure the building is where it’s allowed to be, that it’s safe and setbacks are done. We don’t issue the licence, we don’t tell them what they can do. It’s very frustrating. It’s a large economic impact for the province, for the federal government. There should be something for cannabis and rural communities.”
Representing Valens Tuesday were company executives Chantel Popoff, vice-president, and Anderson Smith, special projects, along with landowner Ashley McGrath. The trio presented a power point show to the capacity crowd to address concerns and answered any questions from the floor.
“Our objective with offering this information session was to be proactive and transparent in addressing concerns regarding our facility, as we appreciate and respect the sensitivities around cannabis production facilities,” said Popoff.
Phase 1 of Valens Farms consists of a 40,000-square-foot greenhouse that looks very similar to any other agricultural building in the area. The purpose-built greenhouse will be constructed of steel sides and a glass roof with full blackout capability to prevent light pollution to neighbouring properties. Fans used for temperature control and air filtration will be motorized from inside the facility to mitigate noise concerns in the area.
Valens Farms is a facility designed entirely for craft cultivation purposes.
“Aside from the greenhouse, the only other structure proposed on the property will house all mechanical requirements for operations, all necessary cultivation and processing equipment, and any security equipment and requirements as regulated by Health Canada,” said Popoff. “All value-add activities will be conducted at our Kelowna facility.”
The company anticipates hiring approximately 50 full-time employees to support Phase 1. When the timing is appropriate, said Popoff, Valens will conduct a job fair in the township to provide residents with the opportunity to apply for positions within the facility.
“Our goal is to employ as many local residents as possible to support economic development in the local community,” said Popoff. The company will run shifts, she said, in order to accommodate cultivation operations.
“To respect the local traffic on Pleasant Valley Road, including traffic congestion generated during school hours, Valens will schedule the shifts accordingly to ensure facility operations do not have any effect on roadways within close proximity of the facility,” said Popoff.
Valens has already started preliminary work on the property, including the upgrading of utilities and water drainage, and excavation to prepare the land for building the foundation. Its tentative goal is to be fully operational for January 2019, although employment opportunities may be available sooner as the company prepares the facility for its first harvest.
Council and township staff had a chance to tour Valens’ north Kelowna facility, a newly renovated 25,000 square foot operation.
“We provided township staff and council with the opportunity to tour our facility to showcase the standards in which we operate, the level of professionalism we bring to the industry, and the quality control protocols in place, particularly in regards to odour pollution and security measures,” said Popoff.
Brown was impressed by the company.
“They’re very well secured, very business-like, very accommodating to try and keep neighbours at ease,” said Brown. “It’s a change. It’s something we have to try and cope with.”
During its regular meeting, council approved a zoning text amendment bylaw, including extending setbacks from neighbouring residential properties. The bylaw now goes to the ALC for approval.