Pubdate: Tue, 16 Dec 2014
Source: Herald, The (Everett, WA)
Copyright: 2014 The Daily Herald Co.
Author: Amy Nile, Herald Writer
Page: A1


The Planning Commission Will Hold a Hearing Today As It Seeks 
Recommendations for the County Council on Marijuana Businesses in 
Unincorporated Areas.

EVERETT - Marijuana-enterprise owners are expected to plead for their 
businesses at a public hearing before the Snohomish County Planning 
Commission on Tuesday.

Neighbors who oppose pot operations also plan to weigh in before the 
commission makes a recommendation to the County Council.

The council asked for recommendations as it considers amending the 
rules for marijuana businesses in the spring. In October, the council 
imposed a temporary moratorium on new pot operations in some of the 
county's rural areas after some neighbors voiced opposition.

Meantime, an emergency ordinance is in place until April 1. It bans 
state-licensed growers, processors and retailers in some rural areas 
that weren't already in business as of Oct. 1. It also put in place 
another measure that bans new collective gardens and dispensaries for 
medical marijuana along a one-mile stretch of Highway 9 in Clearview.

Initiative 502, passed in 2012, regulates Washington's recreational 
marijuana system, but some local jurisdictions have been imposing 
limited or total bans on such businesses.

The Planning Commission hearing is at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday on the 
first floor of the Snohomish County Administration Building-East, 
3000 Rockefeller Ave. in Everett. After the hearing, the Planning 
Commission will consider recommendations on regulations to present to 
the County Council.

The prohibition of recreational pot businesses now applies to those 
in R-5 zones and in the Clearview rural commercial area, which covers 
about 116 acres along Highway 9. R-5 zones are rural areas where the 
county typically permits only one house per five acres, with some exceptions.

With increasing political pressure from neighbors and organizations 
opposed to having marijuana businesses nearby, dozens of existing and 
would-be producers in the R-5 zone have formed a group known as the 
R5 Cooperative. The businesses fear that the county might permanently 
prohibit marijuana producers and retailers after they have invested 
in launching the businesses. That has happened in a number of 
jurisdictions across Washington.

The state Liquor Control Board, which regulates I-502 businesses, has 
approved more than 80 producers and processors, but there now are 
four legal marijuana growing and processing businesses operating, 
having beat the Oct. 1 moratorium.

The county Department of Planning and Development Services has 
offered four options for commissioners to consider, including doing 
nothing, making pot operations a conditional use in R-5, banning them 
in those zones or allowing them with certain development standards:

The do-nothing option would keep in place regulations adopted by the 
County Council in November 2013 which allow state-licensed marijuana 
production and processing in two rural zones, including R-5, an 
agricultural zone, and four urban zones.

The second option would change pot production and processing to a 
"conditional use" in the R-5 zone. Operators would have to go through 
a public-hearing process and demonstrate that their business meets 
certain standards. The county Hearing Examiner could impose 
additional requirements to ensure compatibility with the surrounding 
area and protect the rural character of a neighborhood. Depending on 
the number of applications, this option could require significant 
county staff time would be costly for operators.

Another option would prohibit pot production and processing in R-5 
but continue to allow it in the remaining six zones. Department of 
Planning and Development Services Director Clay White said this would 
give the county time to see how such businesses affect surrounding 
areas. If experience proves the operations are compatible with the 
R-5 zone, the rules could then be changed.

"It's the start-small option," White said, noting his department's 
support of it.

Such a ban could be detrimental to dozens of R-5 businesses already 
in the process of getting up and running.

The fourth option would impose a number of requirements to address 
concerns about marijuana production and processing in R-5 zones, such 
as setback rules to provide physical separation and additional 
landscape screening to address such things as lighting, odor and noise.

The R5 Cooperative has hired land-use consultant Reid Shockey to help 
navigate the complex zoning issues. He wrote a letter to the 
commission urging it recommend the fourth option to allow grow 
operations in R-5 zones under certain conditions.

Jamie Curtismith, another advocate for the R5 Cooperative, said the 
complex regulatory issues have discouraged some operators. A handful 
of marijuana businesses have decided to leave the county, she said.

"Prohibition is not an option," she said. "That's a reefer-madness mentality."

Curtismith, of Everett, said the marijuana industry needs to quell 
fears by providing accurate information about how the businesses will 
affect surrounding areas.

That's exactly what Alice Johnson has been trying to find out since a 
grow operation set up shop near her rural Arlington home last year. 
Johnson said she wants to know what goes on at a such a site and what 
it means for neighbors. She has concerns related to water use, waste 
disposal, environmental effects, lighting, noise and odor.

"It's absolutely intolerable," she said. "It smells like a skunk. 
It's not like they're just growing plants and not offending their 
neighbors. This just doesn't belong here."

The council will hold another public hearing on the matter before 
making a decision, but a date has not been set.
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