Plans for cannabis factory on Courtenay-area farmland raise hackles

Plans to build a warehouse-style cannabis production facility on farmland in Courtenay is being met with concerns from local politicians and neighbours. It’s another case that exposes the debate over whether concrete-based pot bunkers should be allowed on properties in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

A Vancouver Island cannabis company, Coastline Canada, has partnered with Edmonton-based Atlas Growers with plans to build a 100,000-square-foot facility on a five-acre parcel at 3310 Fraser Rd in Courtenay. A facility that large would have the capacity to produce 42,000 kilograms of cannabis a year.

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The plans have sparked concerns about skunky odor, security risks, light pollution, increased traffic on the rural road and a lack of available water, said Cheryl Glennie, who lives next to the property.

“I can say with certainty that nobody wants it,” said Glennie, who has met with many residents on Fraser Road.a

Glennie and the neighbour on the other side of the property met with Coastline co-founders Richard Park and Dylan Hardie last month. Glennie’s key question to them was: “Why would you buy such an expensive, beautiful property and rip it apart to build a cannabis facility?”

Glennie told the Times Colonist she is opposed to any facility that would destroy fertile farmland and said the project would be better suited in an industrial area.

“I do feel ALR land should be used for food production and reserved for food growth,” she said.

Park said the farmland has not been used for food production for decades.

“It's just been a field,” he said.

Tensions around the question of whether ALR land should be used for pot production flared up in Central Saanich after Evergreen Medicinal Supply made public its plan to build 21 glass and metal greenhouses for cannabis production on Stanhope Dairy Farm between Lochside Drive and Old East Road.

Neighbours formed a group called Citizens Protecting Agricultural Land which asked the provincial government to do more to prevent farmland from “being paved over by cannabis growers with deep pockets.”

In July, the provincial government announced it will give municipalities and First Nations the power to ban concrete-based, industrial-style production facilities on protected agricultural land.

Weeks later, Stanhope farm was back on the market and the cannabis greenhouse plan appeared to be up in smoke.

Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula said while the provincial legislation gives municipalities more power, he’s concerned that provincial and federal rules around cannabis keep changing.

Jangula said he’s not opposed to cannabis production facilities, because cannabis will be legal on Oct. 17. His biggest concern is where they’re located.

“I have to be concerned about my taxpayers and voters that live in very close proximity to this proposed location,” he said.

He noted the proposed facility is close to a 300-home development called the Ridge on Buckstone Road.

“They’re proposing to build this right beside some of our best housing units,” he said. “It’s automatically going to cause some conflict, there's no doubt about that.”

Hardie purchased the property in November for $990,000, according to B.C. property records.

Parks wants to begin construction begin by November. However, the company has yet to apply for a building permit.

Coastline has applied for Health Canada approval through the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes process. Final approval can take place only after the facility has been built and Health Canada ensures it has met all the necessary guidelines.

Park said the facility will be guarded by round-the-clock security. Armoured vehicles will likely be making daily trips to the facility, but Park said a traffic study is underway to assess the impact.

The company was originally planning to build a greenhouse-style building but is changing the design to a warehouse-style structure after feedback from neighbours concerned about light pollution.

“Our business partners and I have knocked on every door in the neighbourhood and we’ve been meeting with community groups and councillors,” Park said. “We want this to be a consultative process.”

Coastline is scheduled to speak to Courtenay council about their plans at a Sept. 4 council meeting.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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