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Residents, county at odds over pot

More than 80 individuals came and went during the two-hour meeting to discuss the zoning and conditional use permit proposed for a cannabis production and processing operation at 322 Cassidy Road.  - Sequim Gazette photo by Alana Linderoth
More than 80 individuals came and went during the two-hour meeting to discuss the zoning and conditional use permit proposed for a cannabis production and processing operation at 322 Cassidy Road.
— image credit: Sequim Gazette photo by Alana Linderoth

More than 80 community members attended a meeting June 30 organized by concerned residents regarding a proposed Tier 2 cannabis production and processing facility at 322 Cassidy Road. Although the group gathered to discuss the specific facility, as a whole they have a bigger picture in mind knowing they will not be alone as additional similar facilities are anticipated within the county.

The Liquor Control Board announced July 7 that 24 marijuana retailer licenses were issued across the state and represent the first of 334 retail licenses allotted.

With retail stores on the verge of opening, producers and processors prepare to stock the stores with the first crop of legal recreational cannabis following nearly 18 months of working with the Liquor Control Board while it established “a tightly controlled and comprehensive system of producing, processing and retailing recreational marijuana,” according to the Liquor Control Board announcement.

“It is not just the neighborhood on Cassidy Road that is going to face these kinds of places wanting to move in next door,” said Steven Berg, one of the spokesmen at the Monday meeting. “These places don’t belong on Cassidy Road or any residential zone for that matter.”

From the county, both Sheila Roark Miller, director of Department of Community Development, and Jim McEntire, county commissioner, were there to listen and answer any potential questions directed toward the county.

Meeting views

The shared opinions of the outspoken individuals at the meeting were against cannabis production and processing facilities within residential zoning. Nearby residents are skeptical of the security of the facility, the potential odor, water supply and the environmental and aesthetic impacts.

The Cassidy Road neighborhood is zoned R5 or rural low. Because it is R5 and not industrial or commercial zoned, any cannabis producer interested must receive a conditional use permit from the county, which is what Travis Palmer is in the midst of doing.

 

As part of the process, if not categorically exempt, the county

requires a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) checklist to accompany the project proposal. Residents at the meeting voiced that the SEPA checklist from Palmer was “insufficiently filled out with one word answers,” said Elizabeth Norris, a Clallam County resident.

 

“It’s troublesome and frankly scary that anyone can fill out an application,” Norris said.

Many comments were voiced during the meeting regarding the amount of water required, the potential chemicals and water run-off impacts given Palmer’s basic answers on the checklist. However, despite the outspoken concerns regarding the possible impacts of chemical usage, no specific chemicals were mentioned.

The Liquor Control Board and the Washington State Department of Agriculture provided a list of approved chemicals found within fertilizers and pesticides for cannabis plants grown under Initiative 502.

“Only authorized pesticide products may be used. Using an unauthorized pesticide is a public safety license violation and can result in the cancellation of a producer’s license,” according to the Liquor Control Board.

Of the 269 approved labels 189 also are approved for strawberries among other crops, and the remaining 80 approved labels are approved for a variety of crops such as grass hay, beans and mushrooms.

For Palmer, the list of Liquor Control Board-approved labels is somewhat unnecessary given he plans to “grow organically,” Palmer said.

“I don’t use pesticides and don’t plan to,” Palmer said. “I grow organically.”

Palmer is from the Tacoma area, but has pursued Clallam County for his cannabis production and processing business because of the environment, which is ideal for growing cannabis within greenhouses, according to Palmer, and because the county seemed fairly willing to work with entrepreneurs such as himself.

Not invited

Palmer was unaware of the meeting discussing his conditional use permit application with the county, but admits he would have liked the opportunity to address concerns and questions.

“I can understand all their concerns and I wish I was invited to possibly alleviate some of the unknowns,” Palmer said. “I thought that was what the hearing exam was all about.”

Throughout the meeting some residents commented on the fact that Palmer will not be living at the production site and therefore have concerns about it being unsupervised. In the beginning Palmer confirmed he will not be living on-site, but has and continues to develop the 6 acres to support a single family home for his wife and two children in addition to the four proposed greenhouses. Given the amount of start-up funds needed to buy the land and build his production site, Palmer said he can’t afford to build a house too, but intends to as soon as the funds become available.

“I’ve already invested more than $130,000 at this point, but will invest more than $300,000 by the time the greenhouses are ready,” Palmer said.

Marijuana as agriculture?

Palmer is in a similar situation as some of the other cannabis producers trying to settle on a location since Roark Miller stated in an April memo that the county will require a conditional use permit for any cannabis-related activity outside industrial or commercial zoning because the county “will not interpret ‘agriculture’ to include marijuana.”

Palmer already had purchased the property on Cassidy Road on a verbal understanding from county officials that rural residential and agricultural land would be appropriate property to seek for his purpose, but that was before April and county officials’ interpretation of marijuana as not agriculture, Palmer said.

“If I would have known about the conditional use permit, I wouldn’t have purchased the property right away,” Palmer said.

Applying for the conditional use permit for Cassidy Road is Palmer’s first time going through the process; thus, when filling out his State Environmental Policy Act checklist he looked at similar applications from Clallam and other counties to gauge the amount of depth and detail to provide. Although many of his answers on the checklist are one-word answers, which has surrounding neighbors concerned, Greg Ballard, senior planner at the Department of Community Development, said “The checklist (filled out by Palmer) on average is what we expect.”

“My staff and I are putting the same amount of effort into marijuana applications as any other business,” Roark Miller said during the Monday meeting.

After reviewing the State Environmental Policy Act checklist and the proposed project in mid-June the Department of Community Development issued a Determination of Non-Significance (DNS) and the public had a two-week comment period that ended July 2. This public comment period was the catalyst for the concerned group of citizens to hold the Monday meeting and prepare letters and a petition against the DNS decision and conditional use permit as a whole.

Now what?

At this point county officials will review the comments from the public and incorporate them into the final report for the hearing examiner to review.

“The SEPA checklist is one of the first steps (in the permitting process), but not the most rigorous,” Ballard said. “It is pretty obvious there’s not going to be a probable adverse impact when looking at the project.”

For example, with concerns related to water run-off in Palmer’s project, all watering can be controlled given the cannabis plants are grown and watered within greenhouses, Ballard said. In addition, Palmer has access to irrigation water, however because Palmer’s property is within the Dungeness Water Rule Area, Palmer will need to work with the Department of Ecology and Water Exchange to determine the use of his well for the months he’s unable to use irrigation water.

When determining whether there’s “probable adverse impact” county officials take into consideration the scale of the projects.

“We’ve issued Determination of Non-Significance to much larger projects, like 40 lot subdivisions that use much more water for example,” Ballard said.

The checklist is helpful for county officials because it “forces the applicant to tell county staff certain details like how many employees they intend to have and the type of lighting” which staff can then compare and use when reviewing the conditional use permit application.

A similar cannabis Tier 2 production and processing facility on John Jacobs Road in a rural neighborhood conservation zone recently completed the arduous process to receive a conditional use permit, Ballard said, and is a good example of how once a conditional use permit is approved producers must continue to meet many county standards and requirements to maintain their permits and move forward with their project.

Spokesmen for the group against the proposed cannabis production and processing facility on Cassidy Road were contacted, but have no further comments at this time.

The public hearing before Mark Nichols, the Clallam County public hearing examiner, regarding the conditional use permit for Palmer’s proposed Tier 2 cannabis production and processing facility is scheduled for 11 a.m. Aug. 13 in Room 160 at the Clallam County Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St.

 

 

Reach Alana Linderoth at alinderoth@sequimgazette.com.

 

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