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Lakeshore adopts measures to 'control' greenhouses

Glow from greenhouses in Leamington captured on Dec. 3, 2021. Night skies like this are one of the things Lakeshore is trying to prevent by voting on a new bylaw that places restrictions on greenhouses. (Chris Ensing/CBC - image credit)
Glow from greenhouses in Leamington captured on Dec. 3, 2021. Night skies like this are one of the things Lakeshore is trying to prevent by voting on a new bylaw that places restrictions on greenhouses. (Chris Ensing/CBC - image credit)

Lakeshore council has voted in favour of a suite of bylaw changes to restrict greenhouses before they arrive at the municipality.

The vote is one of the final steps toward a compromise between residents and the industry.

"People don't want them … because of the issues our neighbouring municipalities have had with them. The night lights, odour, noise, all those type of things," Deputy Mayor Kirk Walstedt said in an interview prior to the vote.

On Tuesday evening, council voted 7-1 in favour of adopting new rules.

The only vote against the motion was from Coun. John Kerr, who said he wanted to see council adopt an outright ban on greenhouse operations.

Earlier this month, the Municipality of Leamington laid 88 charges against 12 greenhouse companies for allegedly violating new rules restricting lighting.

Walstedt said Lakeshore is learning from their neighbours in Kingsville and Leamington and preventing any issues before any greenhouses arrive at Lakeshore.

He said if it was up to residents and most of council, they'd choose to ban greenhouses altogether. However, provincial law prevents them from doing so and allows greenhouses on agricultural land.

"Our only way to deal with them is to put bylaws in place for when they do come here to control them," he said.

Council chose between two different sets of options for the greenhouse regulation.

Both included key measures such as mandating a 1,000-metre buffer between greenhouses and settlement areas or communities in neighbouring municipalities, the inclusion of more restrictive language regarding odour emissions, prohibitions on light escaping from commercial greenhouses and more.

Option 1 — which council ultimately chose with some amendments — has stronger restrictions on where greenhouses can set up. Under that option, there has to be a 550-metre setback from residential properties, and a 5,000-metre setback from the Hallam Observatory in Comber.

The motion directed administration to prepare the necessary bylaw changes for adoption at Lakeshore council's March 7 meeting.

Walstedt said he hope the bylaw will discourage large greenhouses from moving into town.

"They bring very little to the table."

He cited high water consumption, few jobs and low farm taxes as reasons why Lakeshore would see little economic benefit from greenhouses.

'They're limiting the opportunity to feed Canadians' 

Richard Lee, executive director of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, said he disagrees with Walstedt's statement.

"For every worker that we employ at a farm — and it's approximately one and a half to two people per acre, we have 3,800 acres of greenhouse in Ontario — creates over seven to eight spin off jobs. And I'm being conservative here," Lee said in an interview prior to the council decision.

He said the bylaw doesn't surprise him and expressed his disappointment, saying "they're limiting the opportunity to feed Canadians" and spoke to the efficiency of greenhouses, explaining they can grow more produce in 20 acres of land than a large-scale farming operation

Lee also responded to critics and said the industry is "not perfect," but is aiming to do better. He cited a supply chain issue as the reason why lights are not being properly blocked.

"We're getting there," he said. "And we need some time to ensure that we can get the proper equipment in dolled to ensure that those irritants are minimized."

Lee said if people visited greenhouses, their opinions could change.

"If people understood what we're trying to achieve, and how sustainable these operations are, they may be a little bit more receptive to some of the irritants that come with it."