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Attempt to prohibit cannabis grow operations in the city overturned by council

City council moved ahead on third reading for a bylaw to regulate cannabis in Grand Forks.

A plea by one city councilor to heed “public concern” regarding allowing cannabis grow operations to set up in the city was ignored as the council moved ahead on third reading for a bylaw to regulate cannabis in Grand Forks.

Beverley Tripp said the public meeting regarding the Zoning Bylaw amendment — which defined the zones and location criteria where cannabis retail sites and production, processing or distribution facilities could operate — revealed that a lot of people were concerned about the agricultural impact of a cannabis grow operation, noting it might lower property values, creating offensive odours and light pollution.

“We have very few areas in town that are really going to be available as an option for commercial production and so, on behalf of those residents that brought those concerns forward, I would like to propose that there be no production and processing facilities within city limits,” she said.

Coun. Chris Hammett could not agree with Tripp’s sentiment.

“Our industrial tax rate is even higher than the commercial tax rate,” she countered. “We need to encourage industrial development, we need that industrial tax base.

“I don’t have a problem with the location. If that is zoned industrial, then that is what it is. There are a lot of other things that I could think of that would be a lot worse than a commercial grow op.”

City deputy manager of Operations and Sustainability, Cavan Gates, said there might not be much danger of a grow operation even setting up in the city, since zoning restrictions and land availability were limited.

“When you are talking about cannabis growing facilities, you are realistically talking about one or two acres,” he said, since the vast majority of the city would be excluded from grow facilities.

Tripp’s amendment was defeated as the Zoning Bylaw amendment was given a last look before opening for third reading.

Sign of the times

Cannabis business signage from a controlled highway was debated prior to third reading, with the proposal that no cannabis signage or building face or be adjacent to a controlled highway, and that cannabis signage not be clearly visible from a controlled highway.

The amendment replaced the 50-metre buffer zone from a controlled highway as was first proposed.

“Since (cannabis) will be a legitimate business, or it will be soon, do we have the right to stop a business from promoting itself?” asked Coun. Hammett.

“If they met the other criteria do we have the right to prevent them from putting up their signs?”

Gates said municipalities have the right to control signage within the community.

Mayor Frank Konrad said a cannabis business in a strip mall along the highway would be impeded from operating with the amendment.

Coun. Julia Butler said the intent of the amendment would be to remove drug culture from the busy roadway going through the city.

“And we would not have that advertising promoting marijuana use on our main strip through the highway corridor,” she said.

The intent was to not see overt cannabis business advertising when driving through Grand Forks.

The wording was restrictive and could force a cannabis business to put their main entrance at the back of the building, said Konrad, and that would be a safety issue.

“This is just limiting one strip of our city,” said Butler.

Coun. Colleen Ross said in driving through the city there are already three liquor stores near the highway, with one even near the high school.

“I think this is fear-based here and what we have here is adequate,” she said about the amendment.

“It’s not so much to further restrict but to take into account the nooks and crannies of Grand Forks whereby something that is 20 metres off the highway may not face the highway and may not be visible from the highway, but it may be a store front,” said Gates.

“Under the current wording they would not be allowed to have a cannabis retail outlet. Whereas something that clearly faces the highway and was 51 metres away would be allowed to.”

The intention of the section was just to have the buffer on the highway such that it wasn’t overtly cannabis businesses visible to people driving through the city, said Gates.

“Now, whether or not this is necessary is a good question that council has debated that to a certain extent,” he said.

The compromise between no buffer and some buffer, that takes into account store fronts and commercial locations that might actually face the highway and fall within 50 metres of the highway, Gates explained.

Cleaning up the bylaw

Also included in the amendment were five minor “housekeeping” changes, including cannabis retail sites being permitted to locate in the core commercial and neighbourhood commercial zones and in industrial zones.

However, they must be located at least 100 metres from the nearest parcel boundary of a lot in a community use zone, 100 m. from the nearest parcel boundary of a lot having a youth-centred facility and 100 m. from the nearest edge of building of another cannabis retail site.

In addition, the front face of a building and any signage may be no less than 50 m from a controlled highway.

Cannabis production, processing and distribution would only be allowed in specific areas within industrial zones where they are not within 100 m. of a residential zone, community use zone or a youth-centred facility.

Council gave third reading to the Zoning Bylaw amendment and directed city staff to forward the bylaw amendment to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure for approval.

Minor amendments

The proposed bylaw clarifies the wording within the rural residential (R4) zones with respect to minimum parcel size for subdivision, increasing the minimum size of parcel where both water and sewer existed to 2,500 square metres, clarifying permitted dwelling types, and adding that manufactured homes as secondary dwellings are subject to the regulations of the Agricultural Land Commission.

The minor amendments would add a clause which permit mobile homes to be placed on lands zoned R-1 (single and two-family) and R-2 (small lot residential) south of the Kettle River in the North Ruckle and South Ruckle neighbourhoods only.

As well, the maximum height requirement for accessory dwelling units (i.e., garden suites/carriage houses) would be increasing from 4.8 m to 7.6 m.

“This will allow a livable accessory dwelling unit (carriage house) to be built above a garage or workshop, and at the same time ensure that large monolithic structures are avoided,” noted the city staff report to council.

The height increase would not apply to other accessory buildings such as storage sheds and would only apply to the R-1 and R-2 residential zones where accessory dwelling units were permitted.

Another amendment would increase the floor area maximum for all accessory buildings on a lot in the R-1 (single and two-family) and R-2 (small lot residential) zones to “not more than the lot coverage of the principal use.”

Currently, the lot coverage of all accessory buildings (including accessory dwelling units) cannot exceed 50 per cent of the lot coverage of the home.

“This increase would provide property owners with more flexibility for siting and building garden suites, or workshops, particularly when the principle residence is small,” the report noted.

— Source: City of Grand Forks