Rural residents fight lit greenhouse development near Medicine Hat

·4 min read

More than 50 people living next to a proposed greenhouse development near Medicine Hat say its nighttime lighting would destroy their quality of life and property values, as well as ruin their views and increase traffic.

Ruben's Veggies wants to build 40 acres (16 hectares) of greenhouses west of Medicine Hat near Highway 523 and Range Road 72.

The family-owned company formed in the 1990s grows and sells cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers, calling itself "the best little greenhouse in the west."

The company says it's addressing the concerns.

But dozens of people living in rural properties near the proposed site say the industrial-scale growing operation would have a huge impact on their lives and goes a step beyond traditional agriculture.

"This is drastically impacting why people moved out here in terms of the dark skies and being away from industrial and commercial areas, which essentially is what this will end up being," said Craig Marshal, who lives on a small acreage about 800 metres away from the site.

"We would not have purchased this property if we knew this greenhouse development was coming," Marshal said. "We're extremely worried about what this means."

Marshal says an existing artificially lit greenhouse operating around 10 kilometres away can be seen from 30 or 40 kilometres away at night. Marshal describes it is as a beam of light shooting into the sky. He's worried the new greenhouse would create the same effect.

Submitted by Craig Marshal
Submitted by Craig Marshal

"I can look out of our windows and clearly see where the existing greenhouse is and there are nights in the winter when we drive home and you wouldn't need to use your headlights because of the amount of light that greenhouse is giving off, reflecting from the clouds back onto the snow," said Marshal.

Another resident, Holly Turnbull, lives across the highway from the proposed greenhouse where she farms an orchard with 400 trees.

"I'm very concerned that this will kill my project before it even begins," said Turnbull, who is worried about the impact of lights on her own produce, as well as noise and the visual impact of a 40-acre growing facility across the road.

"These are not your run of the mill operations, this a huge operation that will eliminate our view. Right now, our view is beautiful, and my mind can't even fathom how big this is going to be," Turnbull said.

"It doesn't belong in the middle of 156 country residential acreages and farms," she added.

Turnbull is also concerned about an increase in traffic and large trucks coming and going.

"It's not safe, it's not the right location and it's irresponsible for it to be approved," she said.

Submitted by Holly Turnbull
Submitted by Holly Turnbull

Chloe Veurink, manager at Ruben's Veggies and a member of the family that owns the company, says they are taking several measures to keep any light pollution to a minimum.

"We are using blackout curtains that will black out 80 per cent of light at all times," said Veurink, who adds they will also build a berm to block the greenhouse from view.

"You only need to open the blackout curtains to release heat and humidity from the greenhouse. So as long as the heat and humidity doesn't build up too much, you can keep those closed," she said.

Veurink says it would be the first artificially lit greenhouse built and operated by the company.

She says they would start with a 10-acre (4-hectare) site with the option to expand to a full 40 acres later.

The 50 homeowners opposed to the development were denied the opportunity to present written submissions to Cypress County in person at a meeting held last week, due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Instead, a lengthy online public hearing to amend its land use bylaw took place, with written impact statements read out loud by a county official.

The land-use change was approved in a 5-4 vote. It means the land will be rezoned to include greenhouse developments, leaving the door open for Ruben's Veggies to move forward with its development.

Submitted by Ruben’s Veggies
Submitted by Ruben’s Veggies

Those opposed say not getting the chance to read their own statements aloud and in person meant officials didn't get to witness the emotions at play, denying them the chance to share their feelings and concerns.

"I spoke to numerous people who were in tears listening to the results of the council meeting," said Marshal.

"They don't have to look you in the eye and see the real impact, mentally and emotionally," Marshal said, speaking about the decision.

One of the neighbours opposed to the project is now exploring legal options available to residents looking to challenge the zoning change.

"We're not against greenhouse development and we want the county to grow," said Craig Elder.

"But we question why a development like this is being approved in such close proximity to so many residences," said Elder.

Elder says he's hired a lawyer to help residents explore their options around a possible challenge to the decision.

The next step in the process would be for Ruben's Veggies to apply to Cypress County for a development permit.

The company says it plans to do that as soon as possible.