A marijuana processor who aims to start a grow operation on Marrowstone Island received the approval of county land-use officials and positive testimony from several members of the public, but a …
A marijuana processor who aims to start a grow operation on Marrowstone Island received the approval of county land-use officials and positive testimony from several members of the public, but a majority of those speaking at the June 27 hearing were less than welcoming.
The group crowded into the Jefferson County Superior Courtroom to make their cases. A decision on the proposal is expected this week.
Patrick Hopper, associate planner with the county Department of Community Development (DCD), told Stephen Causseaux, hearing examiner for the county, that the DCD is recommending approval of both a cottage industry and a conditional-use discretionary permit, which would allow Austin Smith to build a 10,080-square-foot, 24-foot-tall greenhouse on his property at 9272 Flagler Road in Nordland.
Smith is the owner of Olympus Gardens LLC, a Tier 3 marijuana-processing operation based in Silverdale, and he appeared at the hearing alongside Kevin Coker, his project manager who has acted as his representative, including by speaking for him at the hearing.
Before either Coker or Smith spoke, Hopper reported that more than 100 comments had been submitted to the county in April, after Smith applied for the two permits in March.
COMMON CONCERNS: WATER, SIZE
Hopper said that the most commonly submitted concerns were the potential contamination of local streams and groundwater; the industrial size of the operation; light pollution; the impact that a marijuana processor could have on surrounding property values; security measures on the property; and the ways in which such a business would not conform to the Marrowstone Island Community Plan.
Hopper noted that the site would be exempt from the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and cited a letter from a former Jefferson County official who was involved in the county comprehensive plan, asserting that the county comp plan should not necessarily be bound by independent area plans, such as the Marrowstone Island Community Plan.
Although Smith’s property is currently zoned for residential use, Coker reasoned that a greenhouse would be “harmonious with the character of development” of Marrowstone Island, with its historic agricultural presence.
“A mile away from our site, there’s a 125-foot-long building that’s 60 or 70 feet tall,” Coker said, adding that native forests serve to screen three sides of Smith’s approximately 7-acre property, with trees providing cover to what he estimated to be 60 percent of the front entrance, and 8-foot-tall fences lining all sides.
Coker, a former Jefferson County planning commissioner, deemed Smith’s mitigation measures “far beyond what’s required,” with water provided by the Jefferson County Public Utility District 1 instead of a well; insulation to cancel out the noise of the fans; any stormwater that penetrates the soils being contained on the property; a “natural biodegradable fog” dissipating the smoke, fumes and odor; and a timed lighting system that’s designed not to escape the confines of the property.
“The security cameras are infrared, so they don’t require light,” Coker said. “No chemicals are used in the hydroponic system. It would be a small family operation, with additional employees hired during harvest time, so any additional traffic would not be a large amount.”
Port Townsend resident Leah Simon, who runs the Pot Townsend cannabis products company, spoke on Smith’s behalf. While she had no prior relationship or interactions with Smith, Simon attested to the stringency of the screening process in order to obtain a marijuana business license.
“The state Liquor and Cannabis Board is extremely strict,” Simon said. “There’s no way they’ll let you get away with not having a camera system with 45 days of footage. You have to be like Fort Knox.”
Simon cited an existing greenhouse operation in Port Angeles with a similar setup to what Smith is proposing, and voiced concerns that those who objected to Smith’s proposal might be seeking to “relitigate the legality of cannabis, because if you’re not in compliance, the county and the LCB will rip the license right out of your hands.”
ATTORNEY PRESENTS CASE
Poulsbo attorney Bert Boughton submitted a presentation on behalf of several Marrowstone Island residents, arguing that “it’s not about [Initiative] 502” – by which voters in 2012 approved the legalization of the production, sale and recreational use of marijuana by adults in Washington state – but rather, that such an operation would violate “the letter and the spirit” of the comp plan by running counter to the Marrowstone Island Community Plan.
Boughton not only argued in opposition to the letter cited by Hopper, but he also objected to the site’s exemption from SEPA, which he does not believe fits the parameters of such a categorical exemption.
Reasoning that only a school or a commercial building could be exempt according to those parameters, Boughton asked how a commercial building could be permitted within rural residential zoning.
Boughton noted that he had consulted with Barry Berezowsky, a former planning director for the City of Poulsbo, whom Boughton credited with being a land-use expert.
“What’s at issue here is, what is rural?” Boughton said. “This is about the desire of the people of Jefferson County to preserve their rural spaces and traditional rural job opportunities.”
According to Boughton, home-based businesses and cottage industries are favored on Marrowstone Island because they’re consistent with the character that residents wish to instill and retain in the property. He described them as “subordinate to residential use,” while pointing out that Smith does not currently live on his Nordland property.
“You must be a resident, and it must be primarily residential in nature,” Boughton said.
Glenn Gately, a water-quality and fish-habitat specialist who has lived on the island since 1979, and his wife, Linda, were among the nearly 100 other attendees.
Gately reiterated concerns of potentially waning property values by warning that other prospective property buyers could lose interest, while existing residents’ enjoyment of their surroundings could be affected.
Linda Gately expanded upon her husband’s first point by referring to concerns that Colorado homes within a half mile of a marijuana business allegedly often have lower property values than homes in the same county outside those boundaries.
Chimacum’s Roger Short actually leases 5 acres of his own property to a marijuana grower, but he recommended against granting Smith’s permits, because of Smith’s use of Coker as an intercessor.
“If you’re going to try and persuade me, talk to me in person,” Short said.
Patricia Farmer, a former member of the Jefferson County Planning Commission for eight years, also contradicted Hopper’s letter, lamenting in retrospect that certain standards hadn’t been made clearer.
“When we talked about allowed cottage industries, in the context of marijuana, that would have meant drying it out in your garage,” Farmer said. “This operation is inappropriate for Marrowstone.”
Cheryl Brunette, a member of the Marrowstone Island Preservation Committee and an island resident for 36 years, also emphasized “our position that this is a land-use issue.”
While she has no qualms with marijuana production, processing or usage, she sees such processors as industrial facilities that are ill-suited to rural residential neighborhoods.
Brunette specifically questioned whether plumbing had been reviewed or approved for the project by Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH), and she said it did appear on the plans that Coker had presented at the May 15 Marrowstone Island Community Association meeting.
Brunette added that JCPH approval for the septic system connection “is approved based on the growing operation using soil as the growing medium,” and as such, she asserted that the use of hydroponic or water-based growing mediums should not be approved.
“The passage of I-502 was a mandate to decriminalize the recreational use of marijuana, but it was never a mandate to jettison zoning laws,” Brunette said. “The rationale behind zoning is that it promotes the good of the entire community in accordance with a comprehensive plan. There are places where people live and play, and there are places for industry. We suggest this project is best suited for the latter.”