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Neighbourly disputes and family feuds clouded a meeting that was aimed at gathering public input to proposed changes to municipal zoning bylaws in order to accommodate Health Canada licenced Medical Marijuana Growing Operations (MMGOs) in the municipality as well as to consider a site-specific proposal for an existing property which the owner hopes to turn into an MMGO.

At their April 28 meeting, Meaford councillors gave final approval to a resolution directing staff to undertake a study regarding land use planning policies for medical marijuana production facilities within the municipality – an action that necessitated an interim control bylaw that has temporarily prohibited the establishment of a medical marijuana production facility until the study is complete and changes to municipal policies have been made. On June 9, councillors received a report from Director of Planning and Building Rob Armstrong. In the report, prepared by municipal planner Liz Buckton, the municipal planners provided an exhaustive study with recommendations for the implementation of policies that would ensure that medical marijuana production facilities can be established in Meaford.

The well-attended July 18 meeting attracted both those in favour of the general and site-specific proposals and those against. Among those to express views against the proposals were the owners of the neighbouring properties of the site-specific proposal – one of those neighbours who objects is the brother of the proponent of the project.

I'm very disappointed with how this matter has been handled,” neighbouring property owner and brother of the proponent, Jim Gardner, told council. “Despite owning and living on a property which actually abuts the property (proposed location for an MMGO), which is the subject of this meeting, I have never been notified by the municipality of the proposed changes.”

Jim Gardner told council that he first learned of the proposed plan from a family member. He also told council that in his view, Rob Gardner was dishonest in a June 18 Meaford Independent article in which he said that the existing building, a former apple storage and juice production facility, pre-existed the neighbouring houses.

Later in the meeting, while responding to questions raised by those opposed to his proposed MMGO on his Highway 26 property, Rob Gardner suggested that he had been misquoted in the Independent article.

I did not say the building was there before the houses. I said it was there before the people bought the homes. I guess we've all been misquoted at one time in the newspapers, but I did not say that,” Gardner said to council.

After reviewing the audio recording of the interview for that article however, The Independent confirmed that the quote used in the article was accurate. Gardner retracted the statement he made at the public meeting after being contacted by The Independent, saying instead that he misspoke.

I am very sorry. I can't imagine why that came out of my mouth. I will be glad to retract my statement as a misspeak rather than a misquote. My point was that I was not trying to deceive anyone,” said Gardner in response to The Independent.

He also told council that one of the neighbouring property owners who has publicly expressed opposition to the proposed MMGO on the Highway 26 property initially expressed no objection, and in fact had been offered an opportunity to invest in the project.

We had notified the town last August. Shortly after that Mr. Vail (one of the neighbours opposed to the proposed facility) and I had confidential discussions about investment in the marijuana business. After some discussion he declined with no mention of any objections. He offered to sell me adjacent land if we need to expand,” Gardner told council. “We had further discussions about investment, and he didn't want that. I tried terribly to get his support. I offered to sell him the building and he could run the business. I offered him a million dollar life insurance policy with his family as beneficiaries. He then offered to sell me his home and three acres for $425,000 and he would withdraw his objections. I said, ‘That's great, we'll make you an offer’, however he changed his mind and would not accept the offer.”

Last month Gardner gave The Independent a tour of his existing 18,000 square foot facility, which was previously used as a cold storage and juice-making facility for Meaford's apple industry.

Gardner told The Independent that the thick concrete, windowless cold storage rooms lend themselves perfectly to the establishment of secure growing and processing rooms, while the size of the building would allow for substantial growth once the facility is in operation. Gardner said that more than $1.5 million will be spent to renovate and secure the property and buildings in order to meet strict Health Canada guidelines.

Health Canada regulations are really strict,” Gardner told The Independent during the tour of his facility. “We have to meet security and site placement criteria, and we have to meet with the zoning policies with the municipality, which we are doing now.”

While there were few if any objections made to the concept of a MMGO establishing itself in the municipality generally, other concerns were raised during the meeting with regard to the site-specific proposal that focused primarily on technical issues, including potential noise from the facility, traffic in and out of the facility, along with security concerns.

Councillors had many questions for both the proponent and for municipal planning staff about the particulars of the proposal.

Planning staff will take all comments from the public as well as other relevant levels of government under advisement as they prepare any necessary revisions to bring before council at a future meeting.