Land use dominated the public comment period of the Jefferson County commissioners’ Jan. 8 meeting, as residents of Marrowstone Island and Tarboo Valley raised concerns about the potential impacts of a proposed marijuana business and a proposed shooting range, respectively, to their neighborhoods.
MARIJUANA IN MARROWSTONE
Vigo Anderson presented himself as a voice for “commonsense thinking,” emphasizing that he was not against marijuana itself, but arguing against the classification of marijuana as an agricultural product.
Anderson noted that farming is not regulated by the state Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB), and that it doesn’t require as many security measures or restrictions from exposure to children.
“And a 10,000-square-foot facility is not a cottage industry,” Anderson said, referring to a marijuana-producing and -processing facility proposed by Austin Smith, owner of Olympus Gardens. “That is de facto spot zoning.”
Anderson warned that Smith’s proposed facility, with its “high fencing” and “people coming and going at all hours,” would diminish the property values, quality of life and rural character of the community for Marrowstone Island residents.
“Why are these people coming to Jefferson County?” Anderson said. “They perceive we have weak statutes.”
Marrowstone Islander John Comstock amplified one of Anderson’s concerns in his own comments, noting that the most cited objection to marijuana processing within rural residential zoning is the smell.
“A review of more than 50 odor complaints received and investigated by the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency [ORCAA] within Jefferson and Clallam counties reveals no fines, abatement nor other enforcement action taken by that agency,” said Comstock, who added that two factors have hindered such action:
The odor must be reported by a resident willing to sign an affidavit that they are regularly affected and who must also be willing to stipulate that it adversely affects the use of their property; and the inspector must detect a “level 2 or greater” smell of marijuana when they arrive.
“Many have told the inspector that they fear repercussions if they file a written complaint,” Comstock said. “And if the wind has changed, the odor may not be detected.”
Comstock referred to an ORCAA recommendation that marijuana-producing and -processing facilities be located far from neighbors who might be able to smell them.
Comstock said that the plans submitted by Olympus Gardens are based on a model that Nextgen, the builder, has located far from other structures, with “no neighbor-friendly facility of similar design” presented for comparison or inspection by the applicant.
“This not your 1970s neighborhood marijuana farm,” Comstock said.
Comstock identified Revised Code of Washington 82.04.213 as clarifying that marijuana is not an agricultural product, so he denied that the “right to farm” argument applies to this type of operation.
Comstock alleged that, if approved, the proposed facility would force families in the neighboring RV park to relocate, in addition to setting a precedent for other light-industrial facilities within rural residential zoning.
“The I-502 website shows that the taxes returned to Jefferson County in 2017, and projected for 2018, pale when compared with the costs of planning, time spent and potential litigation on this ill-advised use permit,” Comstock said. “Avoiding lawsuits should be a secondary planning consideration.”
Marrowstone Island resident Carol Gannella drew laughter from her fellow attendees when she committed the Freudian slip of saying, “I reside in marijuana.” She soon turned serious when she said she saw an inherent contradiction between county code and state law with regard to Smith’s proposal.
“According to Jefferson County Code, the only way a business can qualify as a cottage industry is if it’s subordinate to a personal residence,” Gannella said. “So, who is this mysterious, bona fide, full-time resident?”
By contrast, Gannella claimed that the LCB does not approve marijuana licenses for facilities that offer limited access to law enforcement, “including primary residences,” although Jean Ball, who followed Gannella at the podium, clarified that the LCB restriction on marijuana facilities in primary residences did not extend to residential properties as a whole.
“You could use your garage, but not your home,” Ball said.
DISPUTES OVER SHOOTING
Interwoven between the comments on a marijuana facility on Marrowstone Island were contrasting accounts of how much noise has been generated by the shooting range maintained by the Jefferson County Sportsmen’s Association, as well as what sort of impacts residents of Tarboo Valley could expect from the shooting range that Joe D’Amico is proposing to locate on Tarboo Ridge.
Diane Johnson thanked the commissioners for declaring a moratorium on commercial shooting ranges, and welcomed the opportunity to provide input during the public hearing now scheduled for Feb. 5.
“We’re currently working to identify all the home-based businesses that would be threatened,” Johnson said, reiterating residents’ fears that the gun noise would drive them indoors, and perhaps even be audible through the doors, windows and walls of their homes.
Tom Parks, who lives near the Jefferson County Sportsmen’s shooting range, had no recordings to play this time, but described the shooting on Jan. 5 as “horrific,” running from 10 a.m. “to dark.”
Don McNiece, the resident caretaker of the shooting range, reported that he spent all day on the range Jan. 5, and described it as “in light use” throughout the day.
“When people say they hear 15,000 rounds fired off in a day, we can’t let that lie,” McNiece said. “We can take facts, but we can’t tolerate people saying we’re something that we’re not. At our highest levels, we’ve never surpassed more than 3,000 rounds in a day, and those are once-a-year levels.”
D’Amico opened his remarks by lamenting the Pierce County Sheriff’s deputy who was shot Jan. 7 and died in the line of duty, before asserting that he’s engaged in proper procedures in his ongoing efforts to establish what he’s calling the Cedar Hills Recreational Facility.
With regard to claims of ever-escalating gun noise, D’Amico countered that, if anything, guns have become quieter, as legislation allowing silencers has increased their use.
D’Amico reminded the commissioners of the latest public records request he’s submitted with them, and requested that they include any emails to their campaign or personal accounts relating to the request.
Commission chair Kathleen Kler noted the common thread of land use tying together the public comments that morning, while emphasizing that the commissioners’ priorities are “What is legal, neighborly and able to be enforced,” as well as what is reflective of the community’s values.
At the same time, Kler said, “A lot is asked of us, not all of which is our responsibility,” which makes the role of the hearing examiner essential.
“Between guns and marijuana, could there be two more controversial issues, on up to the federal level?” fellow commissioner Kate Dean asked. “What I’ve noticed is that conditional-use permits work when you have a strong county code. We don’t have a code that strongly defines these issues, which is why we’re pressing pause to figure this out.”
Commissioner David Sullivan admitted that he hadn’t heard about the slain deputy, but added that such news “is always sobering,” while County Administrator Philip Morley clarified that marijuana’s differentiation from other agricultural products has to do with tax exemptions.