Blackfalds bumping up land use amendments for cannabis retail

Cannabis retail businesses, such as High Tide's Canna Cabana which is planned to open on 50 St. in Lacombe, will soon be able to apply for development permits in Blackfalds as the town begins the process of making changes to the Land Use Bylaw. Ashli Barrett / Lacombe Globe

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The Town of Blackfalds has changed its tune on waiting to make Land Use Bylaw (LUB) amendments to accommodate cannabis retail, distribution and production.

Originally planned to be part of the upcoming LUB update next year – with first reading planned for February 2019 and full approval in April) – the town is now going ahead with making changes this year in effort to lift the moratorium on cannabis-related businesses earlier.

The moratorium was first imposed in June, and in October, Blackfalds Mayor Richard Poole told the Lacombe Globe he didn’t believe waiting until 2019 to make changes would hurt the town’s ability to attract those businesses.

Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Myron Thompson, however, told council Tuesday making changes now would help the town compete for those businesses with other communities in the area.

“We have a development moratorium on cannabis applications and that was necessitated at the time,” he said. “Having the cannabis components embedded in the LUB (now) would allow the moratorium to come off, development permit applications to come forward and put us on a level playing field with other municipalities in the region.”

Proposed changes to the LUB including prohibiting all cannabis production, processing and retail from residential zones, and only allow retail stores as a discretionary use in the Commercial Downtown District, as well as along Hwy 2A in the Commercial Highway District.

Since the draft of LUB amendments was shown to council ahead of cannabis legalization in October, however, there have been some modifications with the original recommendation to allow production and processing in Industrial Light and Heavy Districts, provided they meet Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) Commission requirements.

The town has decided to make all cannabis-related businesses discretionary use, meaning no cannabis business will have a “right” to a permit in the Town of Blackfalds, and all applications and permits can be appealed by residents and other business owners.

Modifications have also been made to a proposal which would have seen a ban on advertising and signage for cannabis businesses, outside of the name. Legal counsel provided to the town said that kind of prohibition could cause delivery and enforcement issues, and could be ruled unconstitutional, and therefore amendments will now allow signage and let AGLC regulate signage content.

Adding screening to store windows was not recommended, as it goes against CPTED (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design) principles and could aid in criminal activities such as robbery where visibility into the space would be reduced. As well, screening could pique a minor’s curiosity about what is happening inside the store.

As for private home cultivation, a recommendation to prohibit the growing of plants in accessory buildings or outdoors has been removed, meaning the only rules governing home cultivation would be governed by provincial legislation allowing four plants per home. Cannabis plants would not be allowed to grow in the community gardens.

The 100-metre setback for cannabis businesses from buildings or land defined as schools, health care facilities and another retail cannabis store, and cannabis retail stores will remain as part of LUB changes.

Overall, council was happy with moving forward with changes earlier than planned.

“The legalization has come and passed and I think a lot of the fears people have had about this were unfounded,” said Coun. Jamie Hoover. “We delayed this, but the advantage is we can see what’s happened in other municipalities that maybe pushed forward on their Land Use Bylaw too quickly.”

Council gave unanimous approval to first reading of the amendments.

A public hearing has now been scheduled for Dec. 11, 2018 during the regular council meeting. Following the public hearing, council is expected to give second and third readings to the amended LUB and officially lift the moratorium.

More details of LUB changes can be found on the Town of Blackfalds website.