Vanastra cannabis facility concerns residents, council
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
New cannabis-related concerns have arisen in Vanastra, according to Huron East Councillor Ray Chartrand, who says a second operation has sprung up against local regulations.
Chartrand raised the issue at council’s Oct. 20 meeting, saying that after the community’s first brush with a cannabis production facility, which remains an ongoing concern, a second one is moving forward in the small community.
The facility, he said, is another that allows the growth of medical-grade cannabis under up to four private licences (which can translate to 1,200 plants). This is different from commercial cannabis operations, he said, which are subject to many different regulations, including government-prescribed setbacks.
He has also alleged that the owner of the home has knowingly proceeded in contravention of local regulations, misleading Huron East Council and local residents along the way. This comes after Huron East Council passed a bylaw in July of 2019 to further regulate cannabis facilities in the municipality and ensure council is kept in the loop every step of the way.
Chartrand said the administration committee had a good meeting with the owner of the building, who has leased it to those operating the facility, explaining that council needs a site plan agreement, adequate ventilation and other things in place before construction could proceed. However, days later, Chartrand said, construction was underway without a zoning amendment in place.
“Two days later I got more calls... there were high hoes there and ventilation being put on the building,” Chartrand said. “They just went ahead and did their thing.”
Chief Administrative Officer Brad Knight said it is the building owner’s right to apply for a zoning application through a public meeting, but that hasn’t happened yet. He also told council that several neighbouring municipalities, including Goderich, are facing similar situations. Goderich, for example, he said, is pursuing legal action, but even that has been tricky due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has severely backed up the court system.
Knight suggested that staff could do some further research and report back to council at a future meeting. However, he said that if there were to be a public meeting for the facility, inviting members of the Vanastra community, it would be tricky to accommodate all members of the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This incident, however, points to something more concerning for Huron East Council, Chartrand said, with residents of Vanastra and beyond feeling that there are no repercussions for those who defy regulations in Huron East.
Chartrand referred back to council’s first brush with a cannabis facility in Vanastra, which he said flouted a stop-work order and has still not moved a fence ordered to be moved by council months ago. If council is going to impose rules and regulations, but not enforce them, Chartrand said, councillors can’t expect the confidence of the ratepayers.
“People are losing trust in our council,” he said. “They’re not seeing any action; just talk.”
Because the new project is known to be in contravention of local regulations, Knight said, council can either order the building owner to apply for a rezoning application or order the building to be torn down. Mayor Bernie MacLellan agreed, saying the first step should be to initiate the rezoning application process and see where that goes.
Deputy-Mayor Bob Fisher agreed with Chartrand, however, and felt the municipality was developing an enforcement problem. Whether it is the cannabis facilities in Vanastra, he said, or main street building owners in Seaforth refusing to conform to heritage designation rules, he didn’t feel council was enforcing its rules and punishing those who didn’t follow them.
Council directed staff to further research the situation and report back to council in the coming weeks.