Renfrew – It was a case of sweet irony for some Admaston/Bromley Township residents one day last week when on the same day township staff and council were hosting a formal public meeting with an agenda item aimed at creating stricter zoning regulations for cannabis production, a raid that confiscated 5,500 pot plants and an undisclosed amount of money took place in the township, six hours before the meeting began.
That was the scene around 11 o’clock Thursday morning when about 30 members of various divisions within the Eastern Ontario Provincial Police catchment area descended on a warehouse at 1197 Highway 132 in A/B Township, a building many recall as the former Tracey’s Dairy warehouse, and prior to that the Pepsi Cola plant.
Led by members of the Renfrew OPP Detachment’s Community Street Crime Unit, officers, supported by over 10 vehicles, raided the warehouse where they were greeted with the site of row after row of marijuana plants, many of them ready to be processed for production.
However, the production line was shut off and two, possibly three Asian men were taken into custody while the raid was carried out.
It is not known at this point if the raid came about as a result of a site visit by the township by-law officer, building inspector and fire chief. The officials noted several possible infractions including zoning, the denial of anyone living in the building, the lack of fire extinguishers, missing exit signs and no emergency lighting, plus the fact the number of pot plants in the building appeared to be over their licensing capacity.
It should be noted the site is zoned as industrial but also includes a residential unit attached to the main building. A nearby resident confirmed at least one of the men taken into custody resided in the unit and was employed as a caretaker for the site.
Township Wants Stricter Control on Pot Production
When about 25 residents gathered inside the township’s council chambers at 477 Stone Road Thursday night, the topic of the raid of the grow-op just six hours earlier certainly injected a little energy into the meeting. It was to be a public meeting with the intent to explain why council adjusted a template introduced by County of Renfrew staff on how to zone and prepare for cannabis production in Ontario.
Many residents, including township staff and council, were aware of the grow-op soon after a numbered company purchased the warehouse in the summer of 2020. It was purchased less than a week after it was listed for a selling price in excess of $320,000. Within six months any remaining tenants residing in the units on the back of the building had been evicted, leaving the building vacant.
Beginning in February 2021, it was noted by a resident that several vehicles, most of them small non-descriptive commercial vans and pick-up trucks, and none of them bearing any company names such as electrical, plumbing or carpentry businesses, became more frequent at the site and workers began modifying the building including removal of interior walls and boarding up exterior windows.
There are no markings or signs on the building. Production continued throughout the latter part of the year into 2022. With that operation came a distinctive smell.
“It was horrible and it seemed like it never stopped, day or night,” one resident said prior to the public meeting. “I mean living out in the country you know there are going to be times when manure is spread and you almost have to hold your breath for a couple of days, then it is gone. Imagine living with that smell every day of the year and you get an idea of what I am talking about.
“I think plenty of us complained and it got to the point the council had to do something. I mean people talk and I think they got tired of more and more people asking what was going on over there and are they legal?”
The meeting began at 6:30 and Mayor Michael Donohue, who was video streaming from his township office as he was self-isolating following his positive COVID test, and council members immediately informed all those in attendance the focus of the meeting was to amend the current zoning by-law and incorporate sections of a by-law template that reflects the needs of township residents moving forward.
The template was created by a County of Renfrew staff report based upon extensive research into current and future trends of land zoning in relation to production of cannabis in the Ottawa Valley and how to enforce any infractions of the by-law.
It was made clear at the outset all questions or comments had to pertain to the recommendations found with the by-law and no reference was to be made to any alleged or actual operating grow-ops that may or may not be present in the township.
A few residents came to the podium and less than five made statements. No references were made to the raid earlier that day or the operation. Among the topics raised was a request by resident Jim Miller to increase the distance from the next building or roadway for future operations to try and reduce the impact of the smell.
Deputy-Mayor Michael Quilty followed up on his request, stating a barn, with no cattle or other animals, must be 450 feet back while a new grow-op can be within 100 feet of another structure or roadway.
“This entire fiasco and forcing the municipalities to take on the costs of enforcement and whatever else is needed can be blamed on one man alone,” he said. “Justin Trudeau wanted to get his marijuana legal and now we are all paying the costs of it.”
At the end of the meeting, Mayor Donohue informed residents of the process to challenge the new by-law if approved if for some reason they take issue with it.
“If a person or public body would otherwise have an ability to appeal the decision of the Township of Admaston/Bromley to the Ontario Land Tribunal but the person or public body does not make oral submissions at a public meeting or make written submissions to the Township of Admaston/Bromley before the by-law is passed, the person or public body is not entitled to appeal the decision.”
When the public meeting ended, the majority of residents left to go home. As they got in their vehicles, a township dump truck drove through the parking lot to the garage. It was the same truck that transported thousands of pot plants from the building to a secure site for disposal.
To date the OPP have offered few details into the background, detail or magnitude of the day’s operation. This story will be updated if and when more information becomes available.
Bruce Mcintyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader