Renton-area grow-op seeks setback relief

Greenhouse subject of drug bust in 2017

A planning application involving a large marijuana-growing facility east of Simcoe will come before Norfolk council Tuesday evening. The property on Townsend Road 14 was the subject of a drug bust in 2017 that resulted in 21 charges against seven people. Monte Sonnenberg / Simcoe Reformer

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The owner of a marijuana-production facility east of Simcoe faces an uphill battle in his bid to bring his operation into conformity with Norfolk regulations.

The 2.1-acre greenhouse at 681 Townsend Concession 14 started out as a vegetable-producing facility but has since converted to marijuana production.

Homes surround the facility on three sides. The greenhouse thus needs relief from the county requirement that marijuana grow operations be at least 150 metres away from sensitive land uses.

In his planning application, Sean Zheng asks for relief from the 150-metre setback requirement. The home closest to the giant greenhouse is 39 feet away. Zheng also needs relief from the requirement that he provide 62 onsite parking spaces.

“The application is not consistent with the provincial policy statement, does not meet the intent of the Norfolk County official plan, and does not represent good planning,” principal planner Mat Vaughan says in a report to Norfolk council.

Norfolk OPP have also weighed in on the application.

Acting Insp. Jim Millson points out that the property east of Blue Line Road was the subject of a drug raid two years ago that resulted in seven individuals from the Greater Toronto Area charged with 21 criminal offences. The current owner was not among those charged.

“That matter is still before the courts and has not been settled,” Millson says in a submission to the Norfolk planning department.

Millson says Norfolk OPP have been called to the property on numerous occasions due to odour complaints.

“Residents advised police that their homes, vehicles, and properties were being affected, that it was overwhelming, and that it was ongoing,” Millson says.

“The strong odour was keeping residents awake and some had left their properties after the strong odour permeated their clothing and personal items.

“OPP are concerned about the escalation of conflict between affected neighbours and the business owner as activity on the site continues and increases, let alone the time expended by our officers investigating complaints at this address.”

Police also have concerns about the property owner being accessible to deal with complaints.

“It is noted that the current owner listed on the application – Sean Zheng – lists  681 Concession 14 Townsend as his address. However, he maintains a Toronto cellphone number,” says Millson.

“There is a concern about dealing with issues at this address and having no one present to answer to complaints or to have an understanding when police investigate matters in relation to this property.”

Zheng will be represented at Tuesday’s public meeting by planning consultant Gary Blazak, of London. Monday, Blazak said he is not familiar with the enforcement action at the property in 2017 and doesn’t know whether Zheng was the owner at the time of the raid. Blazak added that the OPP’s input on the application is not relevant from a planning standpoint.

“I really have no information on that, and I have no comment about that aspect of the application,” Blazak said. “That is really not my area of expertise.”

Blazak said his focus Tuesday will be obtaining setback relief for his client.

Norfolk County approved setback requirements for legal marijuana grow operations last year due to the large number of odour complaints it was receiving.

Greenhouse operations with odour-mitigation technology must be 150-metres from homes, schools and other “sensitive land uses.” Greenhouse operations lacking odour mitigation must observe a setback of 300 metres or more.

The Zheng application comes before Norfolk council during a public meeting under the Planning Act Tuesday. The meeting, which is open to the public, will be held in the council chamber at Governor Simcoe Square beginning at 4 p.m.