Huron East accepts deal to allow cannabis facility in Vanastra
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Huron East Council has struck a deal that will allow a new cannabis production facility to be built in Vanastra, just a few dozen metres from the Vanastra Curling Club.
This comes after council defeated a zoning bylaw amendment at its June 15, 2021 meeting that would have changed the zoning of Part Lot 40, Plan 133, 40 1st Avenue to an industrial special zoning, permitting a cannabis production facility to operate in the building, the Radome, the former home of a secret RADAR site. The building is owned by the Oud brothers, who have owned several businesses in Vanastra over the last two decades.
This came after Huron East passed planning legislation specific to cannabis production facilities, dictating that a facility with an air treatment system would have to be at least 150 metres away from sensitive uses like homes, recreation facilities or schools. A facility without air treatment would have to be 300 metres away. This facility would be 30 metres from the curling club and 115 metres of a neighbouring home.
Regardless, at the June, 2021 meeting, Huron County Planner Laura Simpson recommended approval of a third and final reading of a bylaw that would approve the amendment. Despite the recommendation, council defeated the bylaw with eight councillors voting against it and three voting in favour.
Just over one year later, on June 28, 2022, an Ontario numbered company appealed the decision to the Ontario Land Tribunal. In the weeks since, staff has engaged in discussions with the appellants, at the direction of Huron East’s municipal solicitor, professional planner and technical expert.
As a result, both parties reached a settlement that has since been drafted and vetted. At council’s Nov. 1 meeting, the settlement was presented to council for formal consideration. Conditions of the settlement include site plan control and the creation of a procedure for substantiated odour complaints and an odour management and preventative maintenance program that would allow for on-site inspections and investigations of complaints by Huron East bylaw enforcement staff.
Huron East’s municipal solicitor, Greg Stewart, was in attendance for the Nov. 1 meeting to speak to the matter, saying there was a hearing scheduled for the matter later this month, regardless of whether the settlement was approved by council. If council approved the settlement, he said, it would be put into effect at that hearing.
Stewart didn’t necessarily suggest council vote one way or the other on the issue, but provided context on the potential outcomes of a hearing and the “innate risks in litigation” on the matter. He said that, if council approves the settlement, it will be allowing the facility to move forward, but with a number of agreed-upon control measures in place. If the hearing goes ahead and the municipality loses, the facility will go ahead with none of those measures in place.
One thing he said concerned him is the established 150-metre setback, which, he said, doesn’t appear to be rooted in any science he could find. In his research, it appears that Huron East simply took it from another municipality that had adopted legislation related to cannabis production facilities and that municipality had taken it from another municipality and on and on. He said he couldn’t find any scientific research or evidence pertaining to the 150-metre setback figure, which could make it a vulnerable aspect of the municipality’s planning document.
Councillor Ray Chartrand, who has been an outspoken critic of the proposal since it was first presented to council, said he could not support a settlement and council going back on regulations it passed to protect residents from exactly what was being proposed in Vanastra. Deputy-Mayor Bob Fisher agreed.
Councillor Joe Steffler, however, said he supported the Oud brothers and again heralded all they’ve done for Huron East over the years. Councillor Zoellyn Onn said she approved of the facility and felt it was being stigmatized because it’s a cannabis facility, feeling that if something else was being produced there, no one would have a problem with it.
Councillor Alvin McLellan said he, like Stewart, was concerned about the 150-metre setback clause in the municipality’s planning document, fearing it wouldn’t hold up under the scrutiny of a tribunal hearing.
In the end, council voted to accept the settlement with nine council members voting in favour and two voting against it. In a recorded vote, Mayor Bernie MacLellan and Councillors Dianne Diehl, Brenda Dalton, Alvin McLellan, Larry McGrath, Justin Morrison, Joe Steffler, Gloria Wilbee and Zoellyn Onn voted for the settlement, while Deputy-Mayor Bob Fisher and Councillor Ray Chartrand voted against it.