The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District board has chosen neither to support nor deny an application for a controversial medical marijuana facility proposed for the rural Beaver Creek area.
Instead, the ACRD on Wednesday, Feb. 27 decided to pass the application on to the province’s Agricultural Land Commission for a decision.
The applicant, Moni Sadeghi, is asking for a non-farm use exemption for a plot of land in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) on Beaver Creek Road in order to construct a 57,000-square foot medical marijuana research and production facility.
The ACRD was in the process of issuing a building permit for this development in July 2018, when new rules came down from the province, including an outright moratorium on cement-based, industrial style cannabis production facilities in the ALR.
Neighbours in Beaver Creek have expressed opposition to the project, and many of them were in the board room on Wednesday when the issue came forward.
Beaver Creek resident Carolyn Thibodeau, representing a group of concerned neighbours, opened the meeting with a delegation explaining that the proposed facility does not match the location. The area, she pointed out, includes a “dense cluster” of houses along a narrow street with no sidewalk or streetlights and is not suited for industry.
Thibodeau also brought forward a petition signed by 480 residents expressing opposition to the project.
“We neighbours are not ignorant of the facts surrounding this proposal, or the laws in place to protect our community and our ALR lands,” said Thibodeau. “Nor are we willing to sit back and be treated as mere collateral damage as this application moves forward.”
She urged the ACRD to avoid setting a precedent for the rest of the province that will “chip away” at protected ALR lands.
Although a meeting of the ACRD’s Agricultural Advisory Committee last week recommended that the board deny the application, staff’s recommendation on Wednesday was to forward the application to the ALC, without support or denial. The board passed this motion, adding a note to the ALC that the building permit was applied for before the new rules were in place and that the proposal met all standards within the ACRD’s bylaws.
Beaver Creek director John McNabb said on Wednesday that it is the “most difficult” application he has had to deal with during his tenure with the ACRD board so far.
“On one side of the column, we’ve got a neighbourhood that is particularly upset with the proposal,” he said. “On the other side of the coin there’s an applicant that…has made significant investment in the plans, the engineering.”
Tofino mayor and director Josie Osborne said that the ACRD board has been placed in an “untenable position” due to the ALC’s decisions.
“It places us in a position of balancing neighbourhood interests with a valid investment that’s been made by a person who wants to undertake a development,” she said. “But fundamentally, this is still a land use issue. I think that this one has really got to be one for the ALC to wear a little bit.”
She suggested that the ACRD review its zoning bylaws for recreational and medical cannabis production after a decision is made.
Sproat Lake director Penny Cote, who also sits on the Agricultural Advisory Committee, said the ACRD needs an area for industrial opportunities, and suggested designating some area for industrial use.
Director Alan McCarthy of the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ Government was the only one who voted against the motion, referencing Kackaamin, the addiction treatment facility located directly across the street from the proposed facility.
“There are triggers out there,” he explained. “Sights, sound, smell. I firmly believe that it’s important that we hear what has been said. And I believe that if we’ve got an infrastructure with people that are coming from all over B.C. to participate in [treatment] and we’ve got something across the street that does have triggers, it affects them. And we’re looking at their future.”
Board chair John Jack said he supported the project because of the economic gain for the whole region, but agreed to pass the decision on to the ALC on Wednesday.
“This isn’t on us,” he said. “This on the commission.”