Eganville – Bonnechere Valley council approved a zoning amendment to allow a cannabis production facility at the old, abandoned Blackwater Factory in Foymount but with the caveat there will be a hold on the property until a site plan is in place which will address concerns about water, odour, traffic and other issues raised by neighbours in the hamlet.
Mayor Jennifer Murphy, who was chairing the special meeting of council on Tuesday afternoon, pointed out Health Canada already has a lot of stringent regulations in place governing cannabis production and Delcan, the company behind the Foymount operation, will have to abide by these.
“You have to really want to be in this business to do this business,” she said. “But again, our residents, they are upset and we have to manage expectations and make sure what is in the site plan agreement is detailed and includes all concerns.”
It’s been a long haul for Delcan’s managing partners, Patrick Delaney and Mark Drouin, who first came to council over two years ago with their hopes to turn an abandoned building into a marijuana production facility. Since then, they have not only had to meet requirements set in place by the County of Renfrew but also deal with criticism and concerns by neighbours in Foymount. To begin operations, Delcan needed to rezone the 1.52-hectare property which already has an 1,858 square metre building which they will use to grow marijuana indoors in a 5,000 square foot growing area. Other parts of the building will be used for processing, packaging and product distribution.
However, it is not quite over yet since the next step will be developing a site plan agreement which Delcan must abide by. Mayor Murphy promised all the concerns raised by residents of Foymount will be addressed in this site plan. Mr. Drouin questioned following the meeting what the next step will be and he was directed to be in contact with CAO Annette Gilchrist. Council also heard the site plan will involve consultation not only with council and the township’s legal team but also County of Renfrew Planner Bruce Howarth who first suggested the option of having a hold on the property until a site plan could be developed.
In discussing the proposal during the council meeting, most of council appeared in favour of the re-zoning and after a brief discussion all voted in favour of the re-zoning with the hold in place pending the site plan. Councillor Jack Roesner, who was elected as the representative for Sebastopol Ward where Foymount is located, expressed the most concerns about the project.
“This new industrial site will definitely change and impact the hamlet of Foymount,” he said.
During the consultation process it was clear about 50 to 60 percent of the hamlet residents were against the re-zoning for numerous reasons, he said. As well, Coun. Roesner expressed concerns the company might cut corners on how they promised to deal with aesthetic and odour concerns, among others.
“If the finances aren’t there, there have to be cutbacks somewhere,” he said.
The site plan needed to hold the company accountable, he said.
“We have to have control over what they state is going to get done and what does get done,” he said.
The building is not in a good state of repair right now, he said.
“This building has been occupied for a number of years already and it has left a bad taste in a lot of people that are up there,” he said, noting “a leopard does not change its spots.”
He said the residents of Foymount are concerned the township will not protect them if Delcan does not do everything they have promised. The company has promised a spiffy exterior on the building, trees blocking the building from the adjacent playground, filtration to deal with odour issues and other items.
“I am all for new business, but I am really concerned about the location,” he said.
Other members of council took a slightly different approach. Councillor Brent Patrick began the discussion by saying he was in favour of the rezoning if there was a site plan in place and the hold designation ensured all concerns could be addressed.
“We have an under-utilized commercial/industrial area,” he said. “In my opinion, I think there are a lot of great benefits.”
He said new employment opportunities for the municipality are important and the municipality can put in place measures to deal with the odour concerns.
Councillor Merv Buckwald recalled when the municipality was looking for a new waste site there were a lot of complaints and concerns.
“It all came down to trust to do what we said we were going to do,” he said. “Now we have to trust Delcan to do what the said they will do.”
Mayor Murphy pointed out it is not only Delcan but Health Canada as an overseeing body has clear guidelines and oversight.
“I always like to see new business come to our area,” Councillor Tim Schison said. “Whether you are pro-cannabis or against-cannabis that is not the matter. It is a legal substance.”
He said council needed to trust Delcan would abide by the site plan guidelines put in place.
“And you heard the people of Eganville cheering when they said they will buy water from the municipality,” Mayor Murphy added, referencing the fact Delcan committed to purchasing Eganville water for the operation at about 350,000 litres a month.
As the discussion continued, the mayor acknowledged there would be unhappy residents about the zoning amendment.
“We are going to get a ton of complaints,” she said. “This is one of those moments we need more business, we need more on water.”
All of council are concerned about the impact for the people living in Foymount, she said, adding it is good Delcan is putting in inconspicuous signage at the facility.
Coun. Patrick said there is the possibility for more growth at the industrial park in Foymount and this could be a start. Coun. Schison noted when he was growing up in the community there were a lot of things in Foymount including a store.
“The more opportunity there is for people to work in the area, the more offset for people to open stores and do this and do that,” he added.
Coun. Roesner said he wanted to see the site plan have specific safeguards in terms of expectations and what happens if Delcan is noncompliant. Council was told there could be steps for remedies built in the site plan and it could also become a civil matter for the court.
At this point Mr. Drouin interjected, noting the Cannabis Act is tightly regulated and there are safeguards in place there including monitoring, regulation and record-keeping on issues like odour control measures. Mayor Murphy interrupted him noting this was a council meeting and he was only there as a spectator and could not speak.
Another concern raised by Coun. Roesner was the proximity to homes. He pointed out the county plan calls for a 150-metre setback but the building is closer than this to some homes and as close as 75 metres to a vacant lot. This means further expansion would be impossible, he stressed.
“This building will maximize what they can do,” he said. “They are already encroaching.”
While he suggested stipulating no further growth could be allowed, others were not in favour of this restriction.
Following a bit more deliberation, council passed the amendment with a holding symbol subject to a site plan amendment.
“This is not a mistake,” said Mr. Delaney after thanking council. “You will be pleasantly surprized as we move on.”
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader