May 19, 2022

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Cannabis-growing rules set by Niagara Falls council

The City of Niagara Falls will permit cannabis cultivation and production in select industrial zones, subject to several conditions and regulations.

Coun. Vince Kerrio said city council received “overwhelming objections” from residents who have “filled this council chamber, filled our computers or emails, or filled our phones with telephone calls” any time the issue has gone before council.

“We’re trying to do what the residents have overwhelmingly told us they want us to do and not have to face the marijuana in their area,” he said.

During its Tuesday meeting, city council approved amendments to the municipality’s official plan, zoning bylaws and site-plan control bylaw regarding cannabis growing facilities.

The amendments are for licensed cannabis-production facilities, designated medical growth of cannabis and sensitive land uses.

They do not regulate the growth of as many as four cannabis plants by an individual for personal use.

The city will permit cannabis cultivation and production in industrial designations subject to the following policies: Be in accordance with federal cannabis regulations; be indoors with appropriate infiltration and ensure no emissions of odour; be subject to site-plan control; be 500 metres from sensitive land uses; and prohibit outdoor cultivation.

It will permit cannabis cultivation and production in yard-storage zones, except for prestige and light industrial zones, and development holding zones.

This would be subject to the following regulations: Be wholly enclosed in a building (that is not a residence) with appropriate air filtration; have no outdoor cultivation; be 500 metres from sensitive land uses such as schools, childcare facilities and residences (excluding houses on the same property); not have outdoor storage; and not emit any cannabis odours outside of a building.

All growing facilities will be subject to the site-plan control process through which staff could ask for documents and studies to mitigate nuisance.

Staff recommended permitting cultivation in agricultural designations and zones through a council-approved official plan and zoning bylaw amendment, subject to specific criteria.

A study by consultant SGL Planning & Design noted prohibition of cannabis growing in the agricultural area may be challenged under the definition of “normal farm practices.”

In an interview after the meeting, Kira Dolch, the city’s director of planning, building and development, said council generally remained “silent” on the agricultural area.

“They didn’t necessarily permit it, nor prohibit it, so they’ve kind of stayed silent on it,” she said.

During a public meeting, Tuesday, Niagara Falls resident Clarke Bitter warned council it could expect challenges if it imposes “restrictive” bylaws.

He said instead of buying into untrue “stigmas” against cannabis, politicians should be more supportive of an industry that creates jobs and contributes billions of dollars to the Ontario and Canadian economy.

Dolch said while cannabis is legal, municipalities can consider zoning when it comes to cultivation and production facilities.

Coun. Chris Dabrowski said the city is not against cannabis, noting the number of retail stores in the municipality.

“I’ve talked to probably 200 residents over the past two or three years who don’t want (cultivation and production) in their backyard,” he said.

In an interview after the meeting, Mayor Jim Diodati said council tried to find a proper balance.

“Unless you live next to one of these, you don’t truly appreciate what it’s like,” he said.

“We heard from people who would be directly affected, and they were very concerned — they didn’t want to be smelling this, and I don’t blame them. The question was, what can you do, what’s considered banning, what’s considered putting some rules and regulations around it. I think it was a fair compromise. We worked within the rules to create something that gives them an opportunity, but in a restricted area, and in a restricted way that’s not going to negatively impact people in sensitive (areas).”