September 25th, 2018

Pot plant land needs rezoning

By Collin Gallant on May 10, 2018.


cgallant@medicinehatnews.com
@CollinGallant

Land earmarked for a major medicinal marijuana production facility will need to be rezoned before construction can proceed, because, as the current city bylaws read, growing cannabis is not allowed anywhere in Medicine Hat.

City of Medicine Hat planners are in the middle of writing land-use amendments ahead of the planned legalization of marijuana later this year, mostly to do with where recreational use retail outlets can be located.

But the raft of new regulations will also include where growing of either medical or recreational-use product can occur, something that wasn’t envisioned when the current Land Use Bylaw was passed in 2013.

“It’s neither a permitted or discretionary use in any district in the land use bylaw,” city planning superintendent Erin Onoferychuk told Wednesday’s meeting of the municipal planning commission.

The suggestion is to rezone the site as coming under council’s direct control and passing an attached list of regulations.

“It’s a unique DC district, and site specific, so it should speed things up for the developer,” she said.

Aurora Cannabis announced last month it plans to build a 1.2-million square-foot greenhouse, processing and packaging facility in the Box Springs Business Park. The $130-million project could eventually employ 400 full-time workers. Company officials say they would like to begin construction as soon as possible to have a first crop underway early in 2019.

However, it can’t obtain a building permit because the project doesn’t conform to city bylaws.

The solution, said Onoferychuk, would be to designate the parcel north of Box Springs Street from its current designation as industrial business to a direct control district, giving city council final say on all permits. It also gives more lattitude to what can and can’t be built there.

“We’re in a position of being so far ahead of the curve, that we’re already in a position that we don’t have a zone where it can happen,” said commission member Coun. Darren Hirsch.

He said it was “straight forward … (but) we need to have some really good sets of eyes on this to make sure we get it right.”

At the same time as the zoning change, council would be asked to pass an attached set of regulations specific to the zone.

That means so long as the developer is in compliance with the regulations, approving the actual site plan and work could be done by the commission. That’s opposed to other direct control zones where each and every step must be voted on, which often adds weeks to project timelines.

Commission members unanimously approved the zoning proposal, which will go to council for first reading later this month.

Commission public member Frank Devine asked how future zoning issues could be resolved in a similar manner.

Onoferychuk said the urgency in the Aurora project is behind the current zoning change proposal. Most future applications would be subject to bylaw amendments related to cannabis legalization that planners hope to have before council for approval in July.

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