HALIFAX – Just under one month away from legalization, Regional Council has approved changes to its zoning by-laws dealing with the growth, retail sale and consumption of recreational marijuana in the municipality.
Second reading of the proposed changes were approved after a public hearing Tuesday, with the maximum size of a fully-licensed production facility limited to 5,000 sq. ft. and smaller operations, or so-called ‘micro-grows,’ to 2,152 sq. ft or 200 sq. m.
Production facilities will only be permitted in zones already designated for industrial or mixed-use, or for other ‘intensive agricultural uses,’ and also must be set back a minimum of 70 metres from homes or 'sensitive areas’ like schools, parks and hospitals.
According to staff, the '70 metre-rule' was adopted from Toronto’s current policy on medicinal marijuana facilities.
The updated by-laws also formally outlaw retail sales outside of the province's main supplier, Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation, but if the province were to eventually allow private retail sites, by default, they would be permitted in any location general retail is allowed in HRM.
Consumption facilities are also banned, at least initially, governed under the updated by-laws and the provincial ‘Smoke Free Places Act.’
Several people spoke at Tuesday's public hearing, with opinions split about the economic opportunities presented by commercial production facilities but concerns were also raised about excessive light and noise.
Robert Tilden is a resident of Pleasant Harbour and spoke about concerns over such facilities being placed in rural areas as they “look like prisons.”
“They belong in an industrial park,” Tilden said.
Andrew Henley of Eastern Passage disagreed and urged Councillors to accept “what’s before you as its written.”
Staff and Councillors pointed out the design specifications for such facilities including security are regulated by the federal government and the 70-metre set back is supposed to protect against any excess light, noise, odour or other issues common with industrial facilities.
Dr. Av Singh, a cannabis consultant from Kings County, and Jamie Tingley, owner of the organic 'Off Beet Farm' in Cow Bay, both wanted more support and options given to smaller growers instead of large facilities.
"There's no encouragement for smaller scale farm," Kingley said, arguing an opportunity was being missed to recruit young farmers.
"You need to encourage this…it's a whole economic opportunity.”
CAO Jacques Dube expected the policy and by-laws surrounding marijuana “to be reviewed as society evolves in the new world of permissive cannabis.”
Public hearing to be scheduled for controversial asphalt plant
Regional Council voted on Tuesday to schedule a public hearing on a controversial asphalt plant proposed by Scotian Materials Ltd. just north of Head of St. Margarets Bay.
The company has applied for a change to land-use by-laws on the site, a quarry it owns, so it can move the proposed mobile plant on and off site.
The potential health impacts and other concerns have been raised by nearby homeowners, which also came to a head in 2015 when hundreds showed up for a Public Information Meeting on the matters, concerns that are also outlined in staff's report to Council.
Staff recommended the proposal move to public hearing to allow for more feedback at the Council level and to allow for the proponent to make its case publicly.
Hammonds Plains Councillor Matt Whitman tabled a 700-signature petition against the plant to start Tuesday's meeting and argued Council has already heard from the public and another hearing would be a waste of time.
“This was precedent-setting, overwhelming public input,” Whitman said.
“Near-unanimous public opposition, in the staff report you can see the percentages of the public and how they feel about this.”
He added re-zoning on the site was already not allowed, though it was pointed out that’s why the applicant was apply for a site-specific change and it's not unusual for an applicant to apply for site specific changes.
Councillor Russell Walker said Tuesday’s motion represented first-reading and was not the place to make the case of why it shouldn't move ahead.
“In my 24 years on Council, I’ve known very, very few times Council would not have a public hearing to hear all sides of this,” Walker said, noting previous public information sessions were not considered the same forum.
“A public hearing is the only way you’ll get input for and against.”
Councillor Tony Mancini clarified with legal counsel that it was ultimately Council’s decision whether the hearing could go ahead, but John Traves said it’s "generally" standard to hear from the applicant before a decision is made, but Councillors are also urged "to keep an open mind."
After some spirited debate, Councillors voted 11-4 to schedule a public hearing on the proposed plant, which will be announced at a later date.
Events East 2018-2019 business plan approved
The 2018-2019 business plan for Events East, operators of the Halifax Convention Centre, Scotiabank Centre and Ticket Atlantic, was presented to and approved by Councillors during their meeting Tuesday.
Carrie Cussons, President and CEO of Events East, made the presentation and provided and update on activity since the Convention Centre’s opening earlier this year; 85 events and $11 million in revenues since January.
A total of 160 events are expected by the end of next year, spawning roughly $50 million in economic spinoff for the whole province, according to Cussons.
The current operating budget for the convention centre, however, sits at a deficit of $4.1 million, which Cussons told Council was driven by building costs and property taxes that will be eventually cost-shared between the province and HRM, re-iterating a public statement released last week.
As per the agreement between the two sides responsible for the crown corporation, HRM will now be responsible for 50 per cent of the deficit or about $2 million.
“This is our first year in operations in a new and more complex building and I expect there will be key learnings,” Cussons said.
“We will be closely monitoring those expenses in year one, providing regular updates to our board and to our shareholders. I can assure you we will be working diligently with HRM and provincial staff to ensure we work within this budget and I would of course, be willing to provide another update at the end of the year…”
Council also approved the plan without seeing a detailed breakdown of financials for Scotiabank Centre, more detailed numbers that were requested by north-end Halifax Councillor Lindell Smith in July, but not made available before or during the meeting.
HRM CAO Jacques Dube told Smith the numbers weren't’ available at the moment and he could get them to he and Council soon, but Council approved the annual plan before those were made available.
“We can certainly provide more detail than you have before you right now…certainly at the next meeting or sooner,” Dube said, which Smith asked for as soon as possible.
Barrington Street lane configuration to remain until at least spring
Councillors voted Tuesday to maintain the current lane configuration on Barrington Street between North Street and Niobe Gate until at least next spring, approving a “temporary multi-use pathway” through the area so more active transportation options can be looked at.
The street had been configured to four lanes over a decade ago but work at DND earlier this year led to it being re-jigged: Two southbound lanes and one northbound for traffic, paired with a sidewalk and a “temporary multi-use pathway” for cyclists and pedestrians.
That temporary pathway will be maintained over the winter months after Tuesday’s vote, extending the current Barrington Greenway between the north end and the downtown, an area that's typically "risky" for cyclists to travel, according to staff.
The hope, according to staff’s report, is eventually to connect the greenway to the temporary path and through the future Cogswell district to the downtown, while connecting to the existing bike lanes on Devonshire Avenue in other direction.
Staff note while a lane is being lost to vehicle traffic on Barrington Street, wider lanes means likely better flow and safety on a stretch known for accidents.
“This is because the current four lanes are very narrow and do not provide adequate space for the large volumes of trucks and buses that use this section of Barrington Street,” staff write in their report.
HRM staff also recommend transit priority routes eventually be included in the project.
Staff will continue to monitor traffic changes, collect data and conduct a Public Information Session before a proposed permanent design is returned to Council for approval next spring.
Tender awarded for first phase of Burnside Transit Centre roof replacement
The first-phase of work to replace the nearly 40-year-old roof on Halifax Transit’s main storage and maintenance facility in Burnside was approved by Council on Tuesday.
Councillors unanimously voted to award the $1.3 million contract to the lowest bidder of five, Evolution Roofing Ltd., who will now complete about two-thirds of the work needed to replace the roughly 163,800 sq. ft. roof, which has had extensive leaking issues in recent years.
The roof is believed to be the original first installed on the building in 1981, according to staff’s report.
It’s not clear when replacement work will begin but a tender for the second phase of the project is expected to be issued in early 2019.