Meeting ends abruptly at curfew, forcing additional session two days later
BY JOHN CHICK
Special to the VOICE
Pelham Town Council appears to be leaning toward extending its Interim Control Bylaw (ICBL) on cannabis producers for another year. The July 15 meeting heard this request from Cannabis Control Committee (CCC) chair, Tim Nohara, who said much work remains to be done to adapt municipal regulations to the burgeoning marijuana industry.
“It became clear to us reasonably quickly there was no way we could complete our work properly without an extension to the ICBL,” Nohara said. “The committee has been working diligently, weekly … it’s even difficult to review minutes for the next meeting because there’s so much work and research going on. And we have to thoughtfully apply that research.”
The Planning Act allows for a one-year extension to ICBLs. The current bylaw is in effect for one year, and is set to expire at 11:59 PM on October 14. It prohibits licensed cannabis producers from either expanding or building new grow-op facilities during its term. In May, the Town denied pot producer Leviathan’s request for an exemption to the ICBL, prompting so-far-unrealized threats of legal action.
Last month, Niagara-on-the-Lake approved a one-year extension to their cannabis ICBL.
While most of council appeared on board with the idea, new CAO David Cribbs asserted that municipalities don’t have carte blanche in imposing ICBLs. In fact, once one expires, another cannot be passed for three years—for any issue.
“The issue of cannabis control, seems to me, the new guy, the dominant and most important and most pressing issue for the Town of Pelham currently in its social agenda,” Cribbs said.
“However, and with respect, one day this too shall pass. Section 38-7 of the Planning Act says that after the final expiry of an interim control bylaw, you can’t pass a new interim control bylaw for three years for any purpose on the same lands.”
Cribbs added that in his previous jobs, municipalities ended up regretting imposing them when another contentious issue —in his cited case, the spread of methadone clinics —popped up.
“My employment experience, without giving you legal advice, has been two of my last three employers have deeply regretted passing interim control bylaws on a given topic when as quickly a second topic came up, and they didn’t have that planning tool,” he said.
“It’s always important to look at the totality … I don’t have a crystal ball, I can’t tell you what’s going to matter in three years … the longer you extend it, the longer it is [before you] can use it again.”
Passing an extension would guarantee that this particular council would not be able to pass another ICBL— for example, around short-term rentals —during the rest of its term.
With that information in hand, council unanimously directed staff to conduct a public meeting on the matter, likely in late August. They are then expected to vote on the extension on September 23, three weeks before the expiry of the current bylaw.
Councilor Mike Ciolfi, who is also on the Cannabis Control Committee, told council that he and air quality specialist Phil Girard were invited by CannTrust to take air samples from the company’s Balfour Street exhaust vents during the week of July 8. The invitation came in the midst of CannTrust’s compliance meltdown, in which Health Canada put a hold on 5,200 kilograms of unlicensed cannabis, and which prompted the facility to go into a full-scale shutdown in the wake of a whistleblower report.
Air quality results from Girard, who was hired by CannTrust, are expected within three to four weeks.
“Can we trust CannTrust reports after what they did?” Councilor Ron Kore asked aloud. “I wouldn’t trust them now, whatever they say.”
Fewer library hours
Council heard minutes from the Pelham Library Board, with Mayor Marvin Junkin expressing concern that the Maple Acre branch in Fenwick has reduced its hours by ten a week—as the board said would happen after being shut out of the spring budget. In response, Councilor Marianne Stewart noted, “Somewhere between 25 to 30 percent of our library budget goes to salaries.”
This is the case even without a current library CEO, following last year’s resignation of Kirk Weaver, which reduced salary expense by some $106,000.
Sulphur Springs Road
With time running out to get major public work projects done this summer, council agreed to take a pass on a staff report that would have seen construction commence on two troubled sites on Sulphur Springs Road. A stretch of the roadway has been closed for three years due to erosion from Twelve Mile Creek. Public Works Director Jason Marr said that the cost of the project had nearly doubled from an initial budget of $250,000, given the sensitivity of the area.
Had council moved to proceed with the work now, Marr said, he would have to have had a tender “out on the street next week” in order to allow for in-water work before August 31.
Marr added that the conservancy group Trout Unlimited, which is committed to preserving the creek—Niagara’s last cold-water stream —wants to keep the roadway closed permanently in the areas of the trouble spots, and have it turned into a hiking/cycling path.
“As a municipality, to close a road, there’s certain processes we need to go through,” Marr said. “Trout Unlimited says the nearby residents are in favor of keeping the road closed.”
Closing that stretch would break the roadway link, forcing vehicles in and out from opposite access points.
Mayor Junkin seemed open to the idea, but needed to be sure that all nearby residents were fine with it.
“I’m glad we’re not treating that stream like a ditch any more,” he said. [but] if there’s one or two taxpayers … that want to see that road open, then I think we as a council have to follow through on that.”
When the meeting butted up against its 9 PM curfew time, council appeared unable to decide whether to extend the session to address several more items on the docket.
CAO David Cribbs, after a brief recess during which he conferred with senior staff to determine which items were urgent, proposed a mere five-minute meeting extension to pass the bylaws needed to formalize decisions made earlier that evening, and the deferral of other matters to council’s next meeting, on August 12.
Councillors, however, did not appear to understand the deferral part.
“We’ve got another three hours at least, this is not going to happen in half an hour or an hour,” said Councillor Mike Ciolfi.
“You’re asking us to make the decisions on the future of this community in a 15-minute decision-making,” Councillor Kore said to Mayor Junkin, arguing that council had not been provided enough information about certain agenda items. “It’s not fair to me, and it’s not fair to the residents.”
After conferring with Town Clerk Nancy Bozzato, Junkin put the brief extension and deferral to a vote. Not a single councillor was supportive.
“You’re just going to sit here?” asked Junkin, when no councillor raised a hand.
Junkin asked Bozzato what the consequence would be if no vote was taken to extend.
“The meeting would stand in recess, and it would have to be reconvened,” answered Bozzato.
“Okay. If that’s what they want,” said Junkin, bringing down the gavel. “Meeting’s over.”
Two days later, on Wednesday afternoon, council reconvened for a brief session, essentially doing what it could have done Monday night. After passing the bylaws needed to formalize decisions already made on Monday, council voted to defer all remaining items until August 12, council’s next regular meeting.
At press time, no councillor had responded to a request for comment on why these decisions couldn’t have been made at the end of the July 15 meeting.
Mayor Junkin’s response appears in the accompanying sidebar below.
Mayor Junkin responds
It was indeed a unusual decision by council not to extend curfew, as requested by the Clerk, “for 30 seconds, just to pass a bylaw to confirm this evening’s decisions.” Because of the decision, which I believe was unanimous, instead of staying in session for an additional 30 seconds, the Clerk had to call a special meeting of council on Wednesday to ratify the bylaw. This is equivalent to a shopper remembering, at the check-out counter at your local Avondale store, that they had forgotten to pick up a jug of milk, but decided it would be easier to return for it the next day, rather than walk to the rear of the store, right then and there, to get it. I personally had been at Town Hall since 2 o’clock that afternoon, and had unloaded 500 bales of hay that morning. I was still fresh and ready to go for another hour, or whatever, to get the Town’s business done. When you only have one meeting a month, which we do during the summer, everyone should realize that it is going to be a long one.
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