A number of Markdale residents say they have no issue with cannabis operations being established in Canada, just not in their downtown.
“It is great having a new business coming into the facility but, as they say, maybe not in my backyard,” said town resident Rick Brown. “There are a number of buildings that are sitting empty in the municipality, I have concerns about this business going into this particular location.”
The Grey Highlands town hall was overflowing with members of the public as town council hosted a public meeting surrounding a proposed site application from Matchbox Organics on March 10.
Matchbox Organics has applied to establish a micro cannabis cultivation and processing facility within the existing building at 31 Walker Street in Markdale.
A staff report was presented to council on Feb. 19, at which point council asked for a public meeting to be held in order to gain feedback from town residents.
The proposed location has caused a stir among Markdale residents as the site sits in the town’s downtown core, among several "family-friendly" town amenities, including the library, public school and playground.
The municipality’s director of planning and building services, Michael Benner, says the planning department was unsure how to handle the application as the municipality's bylaws were created in 2004, long before the federal government legalized cannabis.
“In terms of planning policies, the crux of the policies that were looked at for the application really comes down to the municipalities zoning bylaw. And, the municipalities zoning bylaw dates back to 2004,” Benner said. “In 2004, cannabis facilities, such as this one being applied for, were not the norm. So, it is a bit of a struggle when you have a new business coming in or new industry coming into the municipality, where do you put that industry?”
The proposed Matchbox Organics site is considered downtown commercial – light industrial, which allows for processing activities.
“A lot of municipalities when faced with cannabis processing facilities such as this typically put those facilities where light industrial uses are permitted,” Benner said.
Residents in attendance at the public meeting raised a number of concerns including – possible odour emissions; building optics; parking; devaluation of neighbouring properties; possible impact on the landfill; the future possibility of an expansion into a cannabis store; the possible intrusion of the facility’s security system; compatibility with the neighbourhood; as well as whether growing the plants should be allowed under the ‘light industrial’ classification.
The proponent, Vladimir Parkanski, along with his consultant and legal representative, were present at the public meeting and welcomed the open forum to address the community’s concerns.
“It is a very rare occasion for applications like these that council has the ability to hear from the public, as well as the proponent," said Grey Highlands Mayor Paul McQueen. "It certainly says something of the proponent that he was willing to come here today and address these concerns."
“I have been in the regulated cannabis space since 2013,” said Michael Elkin, consultant for Matchbox Organics. “I used to design maximum security prison systems. When the government launched the MMPR [Marijuana for medical purposes regulations], which is the original iteration of legalized cannabis, I was instrumental in writing those cannabis regulations with Health Canada.”
Despite plenty of discussion in opposition of the proposed new business, there were also a number of comments in support of bringing Matchbox Organics to downtown Markdale.
“In regards to the proposed fencing and security being an eyesore in the area, let’s face it, this building is a cinder block box. It is already an eyesore,” said Samual Smith. “It is not a very well designed building and it is not very well kept. With a flourishing business inside that building they would be able to upkeep it and make it look like something that is viable, instead of a box that has been left.”
Local resident and business owner, Michael Hill said having another business in town, regardless of the industry, is good for the community.
“I have already benefited from Matchbox coming to Markdale. I own Corwen Container Systems and I have hauled four loads of garbage from gutting the building,” Hill said. “The owner has also asked to work with all local trades. I think this is good for the municipality.”
In terms of parking, the site plan outlines the company’s plans to have 25 employees and only three parking spaces. Something residents and neighbouring businesses flagged as a major concern with the fear that overflow parking will wind up in their parking lots.
“With an average of more than 300 patrons visiting the Walter Harris Library weekly, much of it vehicle traffic, parking spaces are critical for people coming to borrow materials, use computers and other services,” said Kevin Land, chair of the library board. “Parking is especially crucial during times of special programming, community events, children’s programming and book sales.”
Elkin explained that while the company has the potential to employ a total of 25 employees, there will only be three at the site at one time, as they will rotate through a variety of shifts.
Residents also brought forward concerns of odour emissions stemming from the plant with the possibility that they will disrupt their nearby properties and impact minors in the area who are using town facilities, like the nearby basketball courts and baseball diamond.
“Although we are aware as to what extent the plant will be grown on-site and the measures that will be taken to mitigate the unpleasant smell that is known to result from such cultivation, there is enough compelling documented evidence with existing grow ops that warrant investigation,” said Land. “The placement of cannabis operations in the downtown area, which is surrounded by homes, a public school, an arena, a public library and library, seems counterintuitive to the safe and welcoming community in which Markdale residents live, work and play.”
Elkin stated Matchbox Organics will be required to fulfil all of the emission requirements outlined by Health Canada, which are extensive and require both HEPA and charcoal filtration.
He also noted concerned residents should be aware that beyond the local government, these kinds of facilities are highly regulated by Health Canada and the federal government.
“I appreciate council and this process for this site plan, but just know that the applicant is going to go through a much more rigorous process in order to get a license,” Elkin explained. “It is not until that building is up to code and has passed Health Canada regulations that he will be able to plant a seed. And then, following obtaining his license, he will be subject to spot audits, which means inspectors will show up without notice and go through the entire facility looking at many of the concerns talked about here today.”
While Elkin said he understands the position of concerned residents, he points out that legalizing cannabis was a decision made by the federal government and town residents should trust in how the federal, provincial and municipal governments regulate these kinds of facilities.
“This is really about change. This industry is going to change our country and it is going to normalize something that should be normal all along,” Elkin said.
A handful of Markdale residents are calling on the Grey Highlands council to reject the application, or establish parameters in a site control plan that will outline restrictions on emissions, parking, landfill use and the building optics. Something Benner says is entirely possible.
“Through section 41 of the Planning Act, the municipality is able to enact site plan control. Site plan control is really a tool that is used by the municipality to ensure that plan development is safe, functional, and minimizes potential impacts on neighbouring properties,” Benner added.
Residents in favour of site plan application said the municipality should be open for business, regardless of the industry, in order to keep the town economically viable.
“The more businesses and economic growth in this area is absolutely vital and for the most part the comments here tonight are in regards to perceived nuisances,” Smith said. “We need a better reason to be turning away viable business. It can’t be just because we don’t want to see it in our backyard. The economic benefits here far outweigh the negatives.”
Grey Highlands town council will meet on March 18 for a Committee of the Whole meeting where they will discuss the public commentary and the path forward for the Matchbox Organics site application.
Public comments can be submitted for council consideration until March 18. For further information, visit the Grey Highlands website.
Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca