RDEK votes down rezoning for compost facility

A zoning change from rural residential to light industrial on property outside Cranbrook was voted down by the RDEK board.

The RDEK voted not to proceed with a proposed rezoning that would allow a commercial composting facility outside Cranbrook.

The RDEK voted not to proceed with a proposed rezoning that would allow a commercial composting facility outside Cranbrook.

After a lively public hearing and some pushback from some rural residents, the Regional District of East Kootenay board voted not to proceed with a proposed rezoning that would allow a composting business outside Cranbrook.

The proposed rezoning, which would change the land use from rural residential to light industrial, was brought forward by Earthrite Industries in a bid to set up a composting facility on property off Highway 3/93 between Cranbrook and Wardner.

RDEK board chair Rob Gay, who is also the director for Area C — the rural jurisdiction that contains the property of the proposed rezoning — kicked off the debate by stating his opposition citing adverse impacts to neighbouring residents and the lack of any industrial land use in the area’s Official Community Plan (OCP), a plan that was only implemented a year ago.

“I am opposed to rezoning this rural residential land to industrial,” said Gay, “as I believe industrial land use will not improve the lives of those citizens living in the neighbourhood and local community.

“Industrial zoning is not consistent with the policy of our brand-new Steeples OCP. Industrial land is not compatible with adjacent rural residents development and lifestyle. All reports indicate air quality would be impacted to some degree.”

The proposed composting facility was designed to produce 4,800 tons of finished compost that would require, at maximum capacity, up to 18,000 tones of incoming material.

Plans were also in the works to have a retail garden and agricultural component to the business.

Earthrite Industries, headed up by Kris Pickering, commissioned an environmental study on the land after a request from the regional district who heard concerns from neighbouring property owners.

Those concerns included odour control, contamination of ground water and water sources from compost material, while traffic safety from the highway was also a frequent complaint at the public hearing.

The environmental report, conducted by VAST Resource Solutions, concluded that groundwater is located well below the property and that it is unlikely that contact water would reach the water table. Other conclusions included steps to control odour by operational practices and the construction of fencing to keep out wildlife.

Of the 15 directors representing rural areas and municipalities across the RDEK, 11 voted against the rezoning proposal, while four were in favour.

Invermere mayor Gerry Taft threw his support behind Pickering’s proposal during the discussion.

“If I have my facts right, I believe the applicant in this case started the process quite a while ago, long before the OCP was adopted and has been working on this piece of property before they even purchasing it, then after purchasing it and continuing through the process,” Taft said.

“We went through this process in 2016 and basically forced a redo and forced the applicant to do further studies regarding the suitability of the site from an environmental point of view and impacts on water and impacts on the neighbours.

“We’ve made the applicant jump through a lot of hoops and we’ve dragged this process out for a really long time and if the desire of this board and the intent was philosophically that there shouldn’t be any industrial land, then we should have said no at the very beginning.

“We should have said no at first reading and not even brought it to a public hearing and I understand some of the concerns from the neighbours, but I honestly think that what’s already allowed on the site for potential gravel and hobby sawmills and some of these accessory uses that are allowed have just as much potential for nuisances as any of the uses in the industrial zone and I honestly believe this composting is something we should be encouraging, not discouraging.”

Gay said that while the Steeples OCP doesn’t identify areas specific for light industrial use, properties may be considered on a case-by-case basis.

“During our public hearings we heard…that many residents spoke on the benefits of recycling organic wood and waste material,” Gay said. “Some opposed to the rezoning did discuss the positives of making compost, however, they do not support the site chosen to build and operate a commercial composting facility.

“Good idea, bad location was a common thread.”