Neighbours wary of plan for giant pot farm in Central Saanich

Burned once by problems surrounding a compost facility at Stanhope Dairy Farm, Central Saanich residents grilled the businessman behind a proposed $500-million cannabis operation about how he will keep promises around smell, noise and traffic.

Evergreen Medicinal Supply Inc., owned by Shawn Galbraith, is buying Stanhope farm in the hope of building 21 greenhouses to grow medical marijuana. If all goes to plan, the facility would become one of the largest marijuana facilities in Canada.

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Evergreen has approval from Health Canada to build a single 150,000-square-foot, $25-million greenhouse and Galbraith hopes to start construction early in 2018.

Dozens of residents in the Martindale Valley filled the Greek Community Hall on Tuesday night to ask questions and raise concerns. Fresh in their minds is the years-long battle against the pungent compost facility on Stanhope farm, which prompted a lawsuit. In 2017, owners Gord and Robert Rendle agreed to stop bringing in food scraps and construction debris for composting and put the 98-acre farm up for sale for $12 million.

Doug Fulton, who lives on Martindale Road, asked whether Galbraith would consider putting up a performance bond that taxpayers could use as leverage if the pot farm emits a smell, causes major traffic congestion or light pollution.

“Those are big concerns for people in the area because we’ve been through it once before, Fulton said. “Once [the project] happens, we have no leverage.”

Galbraith suggested the municipal bylaw is there to protect residents, which earned a chorus of guffaws.

Ken Marriette, who lives on Tanner Ridge Place, said “the project at face value looks superb,” but he’s worried about what will happen if it doesn’t go exactly as outlined.

“It’s a case of once bitten, twice shy,” he said. “We’ve really been stung the last time around.”

Galbraith assured residents that to comply with Health Canada’s strict regulations, the facility must not omit any odour. Closed-loop air filtration will prevent smells from seeping out, he said. Fans and the cooling system will result in a continuous hum of noise but would not exceed 50 decibels, he said.

The greenhouses will look very different from his windowless concrete bunker, a Health Canada-approved cannabis operation, on Lochside Drive.

The glass and metal greenhouses would be built on a flat plot of land near where Lochside Drive becomes the Lochside Trail and would be lit for about 12 hours a day.

Other residents expressed concerns that the facility is being built on prime agricultural land and that the project will completely change the Martindale Valley. Michael Winkel, whose father has farmed the property adjacent to Stanhope farm for 50 years, said once you cover that land with a greenhouse, the soil disappears forever.

“You’ll never grow a potato, you’ll never pull a carrot out of the ground. You’ll never do any of the things the Agricultural Land Commission was put in place to protect,” he said.

Alan Lowe, the architect for the project, suggested setting up a citizens advisory committee so that the company is in regular dialogue with neighbours.

— With files from Amy Smart

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