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Cassidy Road pot permit hearing draws a crowd
Room capacity was quickly reached Wednesday, Aug. 13, for the hearing examination that will determine whether Travis Palmer’s request for a conditional use permit to pursue a Tier 2 I-502 cannabis processing and production facility, Palmer Brothers Farms, on Cassidy Road will be granted. Hearing examiner Mark Nichols said it was the “largest turnout” he has yet to experience.
Given the long list of testimonies, mostly in opposition to the proposed facility, the hearing lasted four and a half hours and nearly closed down the courthouse with 10 brief minutes to spare. The crowd was dotted red because residents opposed to Palmer Brothers Farms and recreational cannabis operations in residential areas as a whole wore red to signify their unity on the subject.
If approved as is, the conditional use permit would allow Palmer to move forward with his plan to construct three structures equating to 8,496 square feet intended for both growing and processing cannabis on his roughly six acres at 322 Cassidy Road. The property is zoned Rural Low and thus county officials require a conditional use permit given it is not zoned commercial or industrial. With the exception of the 230-acre parcel owned by the Department of Natural Resources, Palmer’s property is among timber and agricultural lands, scattered residences and numerous 2-to-5-acre parcels.
Public opinion or facts?
“I’ll start with the background of why I chose this property,” Palmer said during Wednesday’s examination. “I was told (by county officials) that R5 (Rural Low) zoning wouldn’t be an issue.”
Palmer purchased his property before director of the Department of Community Development Sheila Roark Miller made an official announcement in April that county officials will not interpret agriculture to include marijuana and will require a conditional use permit if in zones that do not list industrial or limited industrial as an allowed use.
“This (conditional use permit) process will serve to offer the best means in which to address the unique issues associated with marijuana, an ‘unclassified’ use,” according to the memo Roark Miller sent to her staff early April.
During the public comment portion of the hearing examination, Tim Humiston, Sequim resident and part owner of Canna Organix LLC, explained to Nichols he was in a similar situation as Palmer. Humiston explained simply because Palmer’s process with the Liquor Control Board moved more quickly than his own was he able to avoid commitment to any property that would too require a conditional use permit.
“I don’t think the county has done a great job with this,” Humiston said. “I’m concerned this is becoming more of an issue of public opinion than it is facts.”
County suggests CUP be denied to Palmer
Originally county officials issued a Determination of Non Significance (DNS), but following the abundance of comments opposed to the DNS, supplemental information from the representative and elements in the State Environmental Policy Act checklist, it was withdrawn.
Since, the county issued a Mitigated Determination of Non Significance to Palmer, given the “potential probably significant adverse impacts” of his plan could be mitigated, according to the Department of Community Development staff report.
Despite county officials’ approval of a Mitigated Determination of Non Significance, Steve Gray, deputy director of the Department of Community Development, said the department suggests Nichols deny the conditional use permit because of the scale of size and the “neighborhood characteristics.”
However, a conditional use permit for a Tier 3 cannabis processing and production facility, which is larger in scale then Palmer’s proposal, recently was approved to Michael Libera of Mother Earth Farms LLC on Power Plant Road, also in Rural Low zoning.
Given county officials’ “inconsistencies” relating to marijuana, the “county has done a great disservice to Mr. Palmer and to us,” said Sequim resident Richard Aksamit.
No marijuana in neighborhoods
Opposition toward Palmer’s facility included concerns with security, lighting, smell, aesthetics, environmental impacts, potential influence on surrounding property value and water usage.
A PowerPoint presentation created by those opposed to Palmer Brothers Farms was presented by Kathryn McCready, a neighbor to Palmer's property.
"Today we are defending our way of life," McCready said.
More than 110 residents have to drive past Palmer's property via Cassidy Road to reach their homes, said Greg Ballard, senior planner for Department of Community Development. Because of the topography of the land the required 8-foot fence would not effectively screen the property, Ballard said. In order for the CUP to be approved, four criteria must be met. Criteria include consistency with the spirit of the county's Comprehensive Plan, county zoning codes, land uses within zoning district and the action will have no adverse impact on the surrounding land uses which cannot be mitigated.
"Although the proposal has similar characteristics as the zoning definition of a commercial greenhouse, it is different because the plants are not sold, but cut, cured and packaged (processed) into a product," according to the Department of Community Development staff report.
However, Palmer feels his facility won't appear much different from surrounding farms, such as the lavender or tomato farms.
"THC (tetrahydrocannabinol is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana's psychological effects) is the difference between lavender," said Brad Buchser, a resident within the Lost Mountain Neighborhood. "It's a narcotic being grown."
Since June and the public notice of Palmer's proposed facility, a group of concerned citizens has been regularly gathering and hired an attorney, Craig Miller.
"This is probably one of the most prepared groups I've dealt with," Miller said.
Miller asked Nichols to consider whether he can "refuse" portion of the Comprehensive Plan, as Miller said Palmer's vision of Palmer Brothers Farms "violates" the plan.
The hearing examination drew to a close with Palmer's final thoughts and he reiterated his flexibility to try to blend with the surrounding neighborhood as much as possible. Nichols has until Wednesday, Aug. 27, to either deny or approve the CUP.