Not so long ago, the only marijuana grow-ops were secret operations, hidden away in houses with all the windows shuttered. We found out they were there when there were reports of strange comings and goings at odd hours or if Hydro One meter reader had a hard time doing his/her job because the meter was spinning so fast (an inefficient air conditioner doesn’t account for a thousand-dollar hydro bill). Now, however, we have legal, licenced grow-ops for medical marijuana. I won’t argue whether that’s good or bad right now – it just is.
The result is that, with Hurricane Road residents looking on hopefully at the last Council meeting, Thorold City Council discussed a Staff report concerning a proposed medical marijuana grow-op on their road.
In a previous presentation to Council, residents pointed out that there are a number of children living on this particular stretch of Hurricane Road, which ends at the 406. They’re understandably concerned for several reasons:
- possible increased traffic for deliveries and shipments for their children and the children at Pathstone’s Children’s Centre (corner of Hurricane Road and the Merrittville Highway), who regularly take field trips along the road;
- a history of odours in other municipalities; and
- possible problems with disposal of discarded plant materials, also experienced by at least one other municipality.
In the document entitled Medical Marihuana Facilities, Report Number: PBS2015-03, the City’s Planning Department noted that, under the present draft Official Plan, “the existing policies of the Official Plan and the new policies of the draft Official Plan do not appear to prohibit the establishment of a medical marihuana facility in either the Agricultural or Industrial areas.” It further noted that, as regards agricultural zoning, the process seemed essentially no different than any other greenhouse operation and therefore would be permissible.
Councillor Mike Charron asked Planner Adele Arbour if anyone had as yet applied for any permits in connection with this operation. Ms. Arbour replied that no applications have been received to date, although there has been contact in the form of information requests and discussions. She went on to say that the applicant would still have to go through a public process, including a public meeting before any permits were issued as part of the site plan process.
Councillor Jim Handley pointed out that, when the City attempted to prevent an adult entertainment concern from being set up in Thorold before 2000, the decision at the time by the OMB (Ontario Municipal Board) was that the City could not ban a permitted business outright but suggested that a municipality did have a right to designate an area for certain types of businesses to locate.
Councillor Handley requested that staff bring back a report on which areas should be designated for a medical marijuana growing operation. Mayor Ted Luciani agreed that the information should be incorporated into the final Official Plan, but asked that the Councillor bring the motion back at the next Council Meeting in the form of a Notice of Motion.
Councillor Fred Neale asked what the setbacks for such an operation would be from nearby residents, but planners did not have a ready answer. Ms. Arbour replied that Staff would need to research what distances the City could justify (without being overturned by the OMB) and that the information would be included in the report. She did note, however, that the requirement for industrial uses is 70 metres from sensitive lands.
Unfortunately, what was not mentioned is that attempts to bring in restrictions under the Official Plan may not help the residents on Hurricane Road. As we all know, “the wheels of [government] grind exceeding slow” (I paraphrased here). The Official Plan has been – and likely will continue to be – a long time coming. This isn’t a problem directly to our own City or Staff, but to the long list of requirements and steps required to get there, including the approval of numerous agencies at every step from the Niagara Region’s Planning Department to conservation organizations.
And while Councillors wait for the reports and the Official plan is finalized, the land will be governed by the old rules. Even the worst planning lawyer in Ontario will argue that the decision to buy the property was made based on the fact that it was allowable at the time. If the owner or owners go ahead and get approved before the new rules are in place, it will be pretty much impossible to stop it. After all, according to the law, the facilities for growing medical are legal, so they certainly have a right to set up somewhere.
The problems associated with these operations might have prevented had the federal government warned the municipalities that their new rules might create problems, or if the municipalities or the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) group had foreseen the problems that might arise. Then municipalities could have tried to restrict their placement through zoning laws. Now we may have something of a horses/barn door situation.
I can certainly understand that these folks don’t want this operation on their nice, quiet, narrow road. And none of the above is to suggest that Council shouldn’t try to get the zoning changes in place and to pursue it if necessary. In the case of Hurricane Road, however, it may be that their best bet will be such controls as may be placed on the operation by the Site Plan Agreement, including the maximum allowable set-backs.