Planning commission approves marijuana draft ordinance

San Juan County is one step closer to amending marijuana production and processing ordinances.

San Juan County Department of Community Development Planner Adam Zack presented the draft ordinance to the commission on July 17. The county council will hold a public hearing regarding the marijuana ordinance, set for 9:15 a.m. on Aug. 25.

In April 2019, council members Jamie Stephens and Bill Watson voted to temporarily enact a six-month pause on permitting marijuana production and processing operations in the county while the county council established rules and regulations over the process. The moratorium has since been extended twice, with the current extension ending in October.

According to Zack, new regulations need to be adopted by Sept. 24, or the moratorium will need to be renewed once again.

“Currently we’re on track to adopt those regulations before the moratorium expires and we should not have to extend it,” Zack said.

The draft ordinance amends several existing county codes and adds new sections directly related to marijuana production and processing.

The topic of prohibiting permits to new marijuana grow operations arose from the controversy surrounding three proposed farms on Lopez. The applicant for all three permits through the state’s marijuana licensing board is Laurent Bentitou, who owns waterfront property on Lopez Sound Road and a cannabis farm named Ceres Garden in Bellevue, Washington.

The first proposed tier 3 site was on Ferry Road and is owned by Michael and Vicky Terra of Paducah, Kentucky. This application was withdrawn by the applicant. Then, the second and third requests were made for Bentitou’s waterfront property, a smaller location, but for a tier 3 permit as well as a tier 2.

The draft ordinance will prohibit all tier 3 marijuana grows from being approved in San Juan County. Production and processing are prohibited in Olga.

Tier 1 and 2 would be permitted by conditional use permit in Activity Center Land Use Designations of village industrial; hamlet industrial; and island center. The only hamlet industrial areas are in Deer Harbor. There are two areas designated island center — one at the intersection of Crow Valley and West Beach roads on Orcas and Dill and Center on Lopez.

“There are currently no lands designated village industrial but if in the future we had a village industrial area, these would apply there,” Zack said.

Production done in activity center land use designations must be conducted in a fully-enclosed and secure structure, such as a “stick-built” building or an opaque greenhouse with rigid walls, a roof and doors.

Tier 1 and 2 operations would be allowed by conditional use permit in rural general use; rural farm/forest; rural industrial and agricultural resource land use areas. Indoor and outdoor production and processing allowed in rural farm/forest and agricultural resource land as well. Additionally, processing will only be allowed to take place if it’s an on-site production in rural farm/forest and ag resource.

“This will prevent the citing of processing operations in farmlands unless they’re directly involved in the production of marijuana,” Zack said.

The ordinance also calls for minimum lot sizes — tier 1 would be one acre in rural general use and rural industrial and three acres in rural farm/forest and ag resource. Tier 2 would be allowed in properties with 5 acres in rural general use and rural industrial; and 10 acres in rural/farm forest and ag resource.

“The minimum lot size is intended to keep production and processing from taking place on very small, platted lots where impacts to neighboring property owners are likely to be greater,” Zack said.

In the Eastsound Subarea, tiers 1 and two would be allowed in Eastsound village commercial; service and light industrial; service park; and country corner commercial. All processing would be required to be done indoors. Production and processing would be prohibited in all other Eastsound designations.

Only one state license can be used on any parcel outside of the urban growth areas. This will prevent more than one operation located on one parcel, Zack explained. Additionally, a certificate of occupancy will be issued until the state approves the license.

According to San Juan County, marijuana will not be considered an agricultural product, Zack explained. This will prohibit marijuana growers from receiving some of the special treatment agricultural products get such as being allowed near critical areas and receiving shoreline allowances. The ordinance also prohibits production and processing in residences; critical areas; critical area buffers; and the shoreline.

In areas designated as agricultural resource lands, production is only allowed to take place in structures that were legally established prior to the effective date of the ordinance, Zack explained.

“This is intended to prevent the construction of new structures for production and processing in agricultural resource land, which those lands must be preserved for ag production and marijuana’s not an ag product so we don’t want agricultural resource land to get converted,” Zack said. This also prevents the expansion of existing structures in agricultural resource lands for the same reason.

Additionally, both indoor and outdoor facilities will have to be set back 300 feet from the property line and 500 feet from existing neighboring residences.

In every land-use designation, lighting must be directed away from neighboring property owners; critical areas and public roads. Type A landscaping is required around the processing area as a visual barrier. The ordinance requires state-mandated security features to be installed prior to the occupation of the structure.

Applicants must describe the use of hazardous substances, methods, or equipment in the application and onsite plans to identify. Fan noise must be muffled and exhaust air must also be filtered to minimize odor impacts to surrounding properties.

The effects of increased truck traffic on county roads also must be minimized. The ordinance allows up to five trips per day on private roads and 6-16 trips per day on public roads.

Planning commission member Tim Blanchard expressed confusion as to why the ordinance doesn’t identify different rules for production and processing.

“My understanding is that the processing facilities pose a higher industrial type level of risk than the production facilities and it wouldn’t seem to me that our classification of marijuana production as non-agricultural changes those underlying physical facts that there’s much greater risk to the environment and surrounding structures of the activities, chemicals, processes that are involved in processing as opposed to production,” Blanchard said, noting his concerns are that without clarity, a situation like the propane tank debacle in a residential neighborhood zoned service light industrial on Orcas could arise.

“We’re really looking at the land-use issue,” Zack said. “That’s one of the ways that we get at the difference in processing versus production is the requirement that they include that information about what materials, what hazard materials and processes they’re going to use.”

Zack noted that building permits are meant to address the health and safety while the primary purpose of the ordinance change is to control the effects marijuana production and processing would have on surrounding properties, the odor and noise those operations could produce and their appearance.

Outside of rural farm/forest and ag resource lands, Zack added, the areas where production and processing are being allowed would be in those primarily used for industrial purposes.

“Those are not typically residential areas, they abut residential areas but the designation themselves are industrial or commercial,” Zack said. Additionally, the requirement that both processing and production must be done on the same property should abate those concerns.

“We should be making more specific what protections should be in place for certain types of processes and being willing to say ‘No, you can’t do that,’” Blanchard said. “It seems to me that the performance standards we have don’t go far enough.”

A second concern Blanchard noted was the addition that a marijuana operation owner would need to pay for the enhancement of a road if their road usage exceeded that outlined by the ordinance. The commission ultimately voted to remove that part of the ordinance.

“To me, this is a giant loophole that you could literally drive a truck through,” Blanchard said in support of removing the section. “This is a back door to allow the destruction of rural character by essentially widening of a road because somebody wants to build a marijuana project. I personally do not think that [this] should be included in here because our code should not require the county to agree to let a developer buy the right to adversely affect rural character by expanding a road.

“Every time we open the door into a road project we erode a little bit of our rural character,” Blanchard said. “What this does is, it does not go so far as to say that there can’t be any improvement to a road. What it does is make the county council do it in the normal way. Which is to propose and get it in a six-year transportation plan and so on and so forth so there’s a robust public process around that. As opposed to this which seems to be a back door and could be something handled within the discretion of public works.”

The commission voted to remove that section of the ordinance before approving the rest.

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