June 17th was a Good News / Bad News day for a Palmer Rapids business. At the Brudenell Lyndoch & Raglan (BLR) Council meeting held that day, approval was given for three severances on land on Wingle Road at the site of the former Wingle Inn. (Above: the property in its B&B days, photo tripadvisor.) Michelle Mantifel, Clerk-Treasurer, in a memo to Council had stated that, “Proposed use of properties is vacant land with no proposed buildings or structures.” In other words, consent was being sought to sever three lots which the applicant, Jiang Shan Vegetables Farm Inc., stated would remain vacant.
However, earlier this year the landowner erected a large number of prefabricated greenhouses on the subject land. This followed the building of a sizable processing barn. The intent of the owner was to operate a cannabis grow-op, although no mention of this was made in the paperwork submitted in support of the severance applications. However, it did not escape the attention of neighbouring landowners as two of the three objectors made reference to the cannabis factor in letters of objection sent in January and February of this year.
Also, according to one member of Council, the proposed grow-op use had not escaped the attention of the Township’s building officer.
However, by only approving the severances, Council might have appeared to have been putting a seal of approval on a cannabis grow-op in the Township when it was a subject that BLR had never considered previously. An additional factor is that it is one of the few municipalities in Ontario which did not vote to “opt in” to permitting the retail sale of cannabis.
In recognition of this conundrum, Mantifel provided Council with another memo which first reminded members that “our current zoning by-law does not prohibit the growing of cannabis.” She then advised that an option, as had been adopted by other municipalities, was to enact an interim control by-law to prohibit cannabis grow operations for a period of up to one year. This would permit BLR to put a temporary freeze on new land uses while it carries out studies and reviews its policies.
When the severances were put to a vote, all councillors approved with the exception of Councillor Andrea Budarick. Budarick asked for a recorded vote which was denied.
The bad news for the applicant was that Council then unanimously agreed to approve the passing of the interim control by-law suggested by Mantifel. This means that to the extent that Jiang Shan Vegetables Farm operations includes growing cannabis, continuing to do so would conflict with the terms of that by-law.
The Current visited the farm earlier this week and spoke to Mr. Chengdi Li, one of the owners of the business. He was asked what he intended to do in the face of the by-law but declined to answer, stating that The Current should speak to “my lawyer.” When asked for the identity of the lawyer so that The Current could contact him/her, Mr. Li would not give the name but said that he would arrange for the lawyer to call us. As of the date of this article, we have not heard from the lawyer.
The Current also spoke to Councillor Budarick about the events leading up to the June 17th meeting. She said that the issue of it being vacant land without mention of a grow-op was “odd.” She said, “It was very clear the Building Inspector knew it was a grow-op. I heard rumours. Even at Council table when I asked, I was not given a direct answer, long before the severances came across the Council table officially. The question was ignored, pushed to the side. That’s odd.”
She went on to say, “I am in business myself, I’m not against business, but let’s do it right. I just don’t like the fact that this seems to be all under the table.” She added, “Let’s strike a balance between concerns and business growth in a responsible informed manner that is consistent with positive healthy growth. Too bad it hasn’t been addressed sooner, and hopefully we can have our review and any amendments done as quickly as possible to minimize any inconvenience to existing growers. It is unfortunate this wasn’t addressed when licensing/ growing became legal.”
It is clear that there has already been a substantial investment in the Jiang Shan Vegetables Farm business. It is to be hoped that Councillor Budarick’s plea for a speedy resolution bears fruit in the interests of all concerned.