It does not exactly sound like a ringing endorsement, but plans for a cannabis production facility in North Saanich passed a legislative hurdle Monday.
North Saanich council meeting as committee-of-the-whole unanimously received and referred to staff a motion from the municipality’s community agricultural commission, which says that the commission “is not opposed” to council approving amendments to the zoning bylaw allowing cannabis production at a former chicken farm.
Coun. Celia Stock picked up on this language in her remarks.
“Their motion is to say that it [the commission] is not opposed to council approving the bylaw, which I found very interesting,” she said.
The commission approved its initial motion on Jan. 8, 2020 following a presentation from Rushco Properties, a group of local entrepreneurs consisting of Rawleigh Rushfeldt, Carl Sorenson and Cam McLennan, who is also a former Sidney councillor.
The company plans to convert an abandoned poultry farm on John Road in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) into a cannabis production facility, with the proviso that the company does not plan to grow cannabis in the facility itself. It instead plans to lease the facility to commercial cannabis growers. The facility would not include a retail section. It stopped operating as a poultry farm in 1997 before Rushco Properties purchased it in 2018.
Approval, or in this case, non-opposition from the municipality’s community agricultural commission, marks a positive development for the entrepreneurs, as they try to establish an industry that has in the past faced opposition from the community at large and elected officials in North Saanich, opposition that has been fading in the past year or so. This said, the application still faces a number of other hurdles.
Councillors also received and referred a motion from the commission that attempts to revive — albeit in a different form — attempts to extract some additional payments from the would-be-cannabis facility.
The motion specifically calls on the District of North Saanich to “consider whether cannabis production or other ventures not producing food for human consumption should pay into its Agricultural Reserve Fund.” (An earlier, eventually abandoned, motion spoke of a “perspective grower of cannabis.”)
The Agricultural Reserve Fund is a non-statutory reserve fund that allows council to use some or all of its available funds for six agricultural-related purposes, including agricultural land purchases and various initiatives around the environment and climate change that benefit agriculture. Fifty per cent of commercial land tax revenues from the Sandown lands, 50 per cent of cell tower revenues, and any additional funds that council allocates flows into the fund.
Council earlier raised, then backed off plans to speak with Rushco Properties about making a financial contribution to agencies dealing with substance abuse and addiction. Councillors had narrowly approved the initial wording in early December, when the company had first presented its plans, with Coun. Jack McClintock, a former cop and critic of the cannabis industry, leading the way.
McClintock then changed his course in saying that the earlier motion was not appropriate.
“The intention of my argument [in early December] was in the industry in general, more broader than this particular applicant,” he said. McClintock said he did not want this motion to single out a business, adding that North Saanich can continue to make its case on the cannabis issue through regional and provincial municipal organizations.
McClintock, for the record, voted in favour of the non-opposing language from North Saanich’s community agricultural commission, a body with some sway as almost 35 per cent of the municipality lies within the ALR.
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