Large grow-op to go ahead

A large medicinal cannabis facility on ALR land near Oliver will be allowed to be built, after regional district board members gave permission to the developers on Thursday.

The medicinal grow-op, to be built on 164 Secrest Hill Road in rural Oliver, will be just under 130,000 square feet in size with the ability to produce about 30,000 kilograms of cannabis each year.

The proposal needed a development permit from the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen as the proposed building will cover about 17 per cent of the 6.72-hectare land parcel — well above the usual limit of three-per-cent coverage.

The developers said if the facility wasn't approved they would build a greenhouse just over 480,000 square feet instead, which would take up 67 per cent of the property.

A greenhouse of that size wouldn't need a development permit, as rural Oliver's zoning bylaws allow greenhouses to cover 75 per cent of a land parcel. 

Rural directors voted 6-2 in favour of the facility, with Tom Siddon and Elef Christensen the dissenting votes.

"Personally I think it’s perfect in my humble opinion," rural Oliver director Terry Schafer said. "It’s not really good agricultural land, right off the bat... And I like the idea of having some more jobs in Area C, and I think it’s a good location."

Siddon said the property was an "amazing part of agricultural land," and voiced concerns the board was rushing into a decision. 

He also acknowledged written comments from several neighbours who were concerned about the facility. A handful of nearby residents opposed to the plan were in the gallery during the board discussion.

"If we really do believe the neighbours should have some influence in what is supposed to be the development of agricultural land, I would see it very difficult to support this application," Siddon said.

The RDOS voted earlier this spring to allow medical cannabis facilities to be built on industrial land, as a way to deter the usage from being on ALR land. 

Development services manager Brad Dollevoet pointed out a medical cannabis facility is a permitted farm use as designated by the province's Agricultural Land Commission. 

"The option is, we either consider an industrial coming of this nature and grant the [development permit], or potentially a much larger greenhouse facility which we wouldn't have the ability to review," Dollevoet told the board.

The developers, Wanda and David Casorso, own a large cattle ranch near Vaseux Lake which won an environmental award in 2013.

Last month, the District of Summerland, along with several other agricultural communities in B.C., wrote a resolution to the province to place a moratorium on new cannabis facilities on ALR land.

This is the third industrial-sized cannabis grow-op to break ground in the South Okanagan this year.

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