Norfolk grapples with potential land-use conflicts
Norfolk County is preparing the groundwork for cannabis tourism.
Questions have arisen, however, over who will be allowed to take part and on what scale.
Last week, Norfolk planning staff proposed several new uses on properties that are approved for cannabis production and processing.
These include a hotel, a “place of assembly,” and “tourist cabin.” The latter is a catch-all term that includes campgrounds and camping.
“A number of on-site tourism-related on-farm uses are proposed in order to enable a future cannabis tourism industry across the county’s rural landscape,” planner Mat Vaughan said in a report to council Wednesday.
“These modifications will help broaden the county’s employment and economic diversity and help to foster a strong and unique tourism market.”
The concept of cannabis tourism isn’t contentious but planning staff’s vision for it is.
In his report, Vaughan said cannabis entrepreneurs in the agricultural zone should have restrictions on how much of a farm can be dedicated to this purpose.
Vaughan’s report suggests up to 2 percent of a farm parcel to a maximum of 2.5 acres.
This raised a red flag for Mayor Kristal Chopp. Chopp disagrees with the planning department’s interpretation of the Planning Act and the powers it grants municipalities to regulate private property.
Chopp doesn’t believe municipalities can tell a property owner what percentage of their land they can devote to a legal enterprise. This is red tape, Chopp said, adding Norfolk needs to get in step with the province as it moves to eliminate barriers to investment and development.
“We have to be careful when writing bylaws,” Chopp said. “We’ve made this commitment to reduce red tape. The province is trying to streamline and we need to streamline.”
Vaughan said restrictions on the size of cannabis attractions are necessary to prevent land-use conflicts and complaints. He added the 2 percent figure is drawn from provincial guidelines on land use in agricultural areas.
Over the past two years, Norfolk County has been inundated with complaints from residents in rural areas who live near greenhouse operations that produce legal marijuana for medical clients.
Most complaints regard the pungent, skunk-like odour that emanates from some of these operations.
Norfolk County addressed the issue last year by imposing a 150-metre setback on greenhouses that employ odour-mitigating technology and a 300-metre setback on greenhouses that do not.
Capping the allowable area of a farm for cannabis tourism at 2.5 acres, Vaughan said, would have a similar setback effect.
“They should be looking for larger properties,” Vaughan said of entrepreneurs with small acreages who want to get into cannabis tourism in a big way.
“It comes down to land-use conflicts and our ability to mitigate land-use conflicts.”
Vaughan feels the principles at stake are so important that he asked council to get a legal opinion before proceeding.
Council agreed to turn the matter over to county solicitor Nicholas Loeb. Council will resume the discussion once Loeb provides guidance.
Vaughan’s report also proposes adding to the list of sensitive land uses that trigger the 150- and 300-metre setback.
These include hotel, camp ground, group home, long-term care facility, mobile home park, place of assembly, place of entertainment, sports and recreation facilities, tent and trailer parks, tourism cabin and hospitals.
Some of these uses are identical to what is proposed for cannabis tourism.
The difference is that the proposed changes would allow cannabis tourism promoters to establish hotels, camp grounds and places of assembly as part of their operation.
Conversely, the new restrictions would protect existing hotel, camp grounds, trailer parks and the like that want to keep the smell of cannabis away from their property.