Jefferson County BOCC weighs in on marijuana business rules

By Nicholas Johnson of the Leader
Posted 11/4/14

Having already received input from Jefferson County's commissioners, county planning staff Wednesday evening are set to give the planning commission a crack at potential zoning and land-use rules for …

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Jefferson County BOCC weighs in on marijuana business rules

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Having already received input from Jefferson County's commissioners, county planning staff Wednesday evening are set to give the planning commission a crack at potential zoning and land-use rules for I-502 marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas.

Afterward, county planners are expected to create a first draft of code regulations to be presented to the planning commission Dec. 3, after which a public hearing is expected on Jan. 7, 2015. A final draft of the rules is expected to be presented to the county commissioners in early February, just prior to the expiration of the county's six-month marijuana business permitting moratorium, which was established Aug. 11.

On Oct. 27, planning staff, including Department of Community Development Director Carl Smith, Planning Manager Stacie Hoskins and Associate Planner Colleen Zmolek, sat with all three commissioners, County Administrator Philip Morley and Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Alvarez to gather input on potential land-use and zoning rules for marijuana businesses.

ZONING MATRIX

Staff presented a matrix analyzing the pros and cons of allowing marijuana growing, processing or retail businesses in some eight zones, including rural industrial, rural residential, rural commercial, public lands, resource lands, forest lands, master planned resort (MPR) and urban growth area (UGA). Those categories are divided into some 29 subcategories, for example dividing rural residential into high-, medium- and low-density.

Regarding growing and processing, staff suggested allowing such businesses in all industrial zones, as well as on resource lands except for mineral resource lands and forest transition lands. Such activity would be banned on all rural commercial lands on MPR and UGA lands. That activity would be allowed on rural residential lands with limits on size and intensity.

Regarding retail, staff suggested allowing such businesses in UGA and MPR commercial areas, rural village centers such as Quilcene and Brinnon, neighborhood crossroads such as Chimacum and Four Corners and general crossroads such as the intersection of State Routes 19 and 20. Such activity would be banned in all industrial areas, public lands, resource lands such as agricultural and forest, convenience crossroads and all rural residential areas.

DISCUSSION

Commissioner David Sullivan, D-Cape George, was the most outspoken, telling staff to take a light touch. He initially challenged the idea that retail businesses be banned from industrial areas, saying such a rule would be redundant.

“I don't see a reason for an express ban on something you can't do anyway,” he said, acknowledging that county code does allow industrial businesses to use 10 percent of their floor space for retail yet I-502 expressly restricts growers and processors from operating retail storefronts. “Why go out and ban things that people can't go out and do by state and federal law? Every time we do a ban in some area, we have a cause of action for someone to come challenge us legally, and why would we go through all that if it's already not allowed for another reason?”

Alvarez warned that state law could change, especially during the upcoming 2015 session, causing county officials to amend its rules accordingly. He also said other counties have taken after state rules and chosen to treat marijuana as needing special rules because of its high value on the black market and possible associated criminal activity.

“You might as well prepare for eventualities,” said Alvarez, who also said marijuana should be regulated similarly to alcohol. “It's not different than alcohol. It has the same regulatory impact as alcohol. We regulate alcohol one way, why can't we regulate marijuana the same way?”

Sullivan said marijuana should be treated just like any other agriculture. He said marijuana should be lightly regulated so as to encourage the legal market, thus rendering the black market and criminal element obsolete.

“I would like you and the planning commission to narrow the focus to just what's necessary and not add all these other things,” Sullivan said. “I think that confuses the issue. I think we ought to deal with impacts from activities rather than deal with marijuana. I don't want to single out marijuana and say we're going to make special rules for this crop. The whole argument that they [the state] have additional regulations, is a reason we don't need so many, because the state's doing it.”

Commissioner John Austin, D-Port Ludlow, said dispute about the impacts of marijuana businesses complicates the discussion.

“What complicates things though is, whether it's rational or not, there is a significant percentage of people in the county who don't want to have marijuana by their property,” he said. “The point is that even though there may not be any rational or legal reason not to allow marijuana to be treated like any other crop, obviously there's been a public outcry. How do we responded to a public outcry even if we don't think the public outcry is legitimate?”

Sullivan said balancing those concerns is what the commissioners are there for.

The point of reviewing the county's rules during the moratorium, Smith said, is to be able to clearly articulate the policy.

“If we don't acknowledge it, it's like we didn't address it,” Smith said, pointing out that of course marijuana businesses would not be allowed on public park lands because no commercial activity is allowed there, but it's important make that clear anyway. “That's really the purpose of the matrix, to articulate our policy.”

Sullivan said there is no reason to create rules where there is no clear impact.

“If you keep on saying we don't need to make any changes, then we've been spinning our wheels,” Alvarez said.

Smith pointed out that convenience crossroads areas, such as Nordland and Beaver Valley, have prescribed uses allowed in those areas.

“There might not be a lot more traffic or impact,” Smith said. “But it's the use. Do you want the use there? That's the issue. It's not totally an issue of scale and intensity, in my view.”

Sullivan said micromanaging every area of the county based on marijuana rather than specific impacts would not be fair.

“My view, again, would be that anything that draws a lot of traffic to the Nordland store that was way beyond the [allowed size and] scale would be a problem,” he said, regardless of whether the product is marijuana or corn.

Smith he and his staff see marijuana as needing some special treatment in the code and recommended it, like alcohol, be added to the use table and assigned special rules.

Sullivan also said property owners should be aware of what is allowed in the area they are buying property and plan accordingly. If someone buys and builds on a neighboring lot within the county's rules for that area, a neighboring property owner can't complain.

"There's a gamble with every property purchase,” Sullivan said. “We can't control everybody else's property so your property will be the way you want it. It's up to property owners to consider what someone on a neighboring lot might do and plan for that on their own property.”

Austin said he hopes people don't take that sentiment the wrong way. He also said that if the state Legislature makes changes to I-502 during its upcoming session, the moratorium could potentially be extended to deal with those changes at the local level.

Alvarez stressed that it would be wiser to make rules anticipating that the state will eventually loosen its rules.

PUBLIC COMMENT

The commissioners had not yet finished reviewing written and verbal comments from the public before offering input to planning staff.

About 50 people attended and some two dozen spoke during a public hearing on Oct. 6. Some 29 people submitted comments in written form.

Public comments were split nearly equally as to whether marijuana growing and processing businesses should be allowed in rural residential areas of the county.

Though no public comment will be taken, planning staff present their potential rules to the planning commission at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Tri-Area Community Center in Chimacum.

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