Could a mega marijuana production facility revive a small Okanagan town?

In the sleepy town of Okanagan Falls, located on the south end of Skaha Lake near Penticton, groundwork is being laid to build one of the largest pot production facilities in the country.

Sunniva Inc. is proposing to build a 740,000-square-foot medical cannabis production, manufacturing and processing building on a 126-acre site at 1655 Maple Street.

The company acquired the land for $7 million and the deal is expected to close on June 15.

The property formerly comprised the Weyerhaeuser mill operation, which ceased operations in 2007. It’s been a vacant industrial lot ever since.

“This project represents a significant redevelopment of the industrial lands in Okanagan Falls and has been designed to provide functional and clean architecture,” Sunniva said in its application to the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen (RDOS).

Poplar Grove winery owner Tony Holler is behind the business venture.

He said the project brings a clean industry to the location, will provide new jobs and increase agriculture in Okanagan Falls.

He said 240 full-time jobs will be created and it will revitalize the small town.

“It brings jobs, it brings probably residential construction,” he said on Monday.

“Okanagan Falls has gone through a really tough time. You see that most of the stores are closed down, even the big inn is closed down, so that tells you something about the economy in this local area. It will revitalize this whole area.”

But not everyone is in favour of the large-scale project.

Okanagan Falls area director Tom Siddon said some area residents are concerned about traffic, odour, property values and the project’s potential impact on the water table.

Siddon said he asked the RDOS board for a deferral of the development permit application to consult with the community, but it was denied and the permit was approved.

Staff are now also recommending the RDOS approve an exemption to the floodplain regulations in order to allow for the development below the flood construction levels of Shuttleworth Creek.

The company still requires a building permit and has not received final approval to become a licensed producer under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations in Canada.

“You have to build before you get approval to sell product,” Holler said.

The company said in its application before the RDOS that it will implement odour control measures, 24/7 security including 300 cameras, and a general “no nuisance” clause relating to noise, vibration, smoke, dust, odours, heat and glare.

Holler said he felt the community was properly consulted.

“People are aware—we’ve talked about it openly—exactly what we are doing and in terms of the site, the site is pretty isolated from the residential area,” he said.

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