Spokane County commissioners are backing off on lot size and property line rules that threatened to stop would-be marijuana growers in agricultural zones.
On Monday, the growers said strict zoning rules enacted last month on a temporary basis would cause them to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in investments they were making to grow Washington’s newly legal cash crop.
During a public hearing, Tom Taylor, a West Plains farmer, said his 23-acre farm could not meet the new standard even though the closest residence is 500 feet away.
Bill Miller said he is helping his son establish a marijuana growing operation southeast of Spangle on a 5-acre parcel.
He said they have spent $200,000 getting ready to supply pot in Washington’s legalized marijuana industry, approved by voters in 2012.
After hearing the testimony, the commissioners reduced acreage minimums from 8 acres to 3 acres for a “tier 1” permit and 5 acres for “tier 2” and “tier 3” permits.
Setbacks are now 100 feet from the front property line, 50 feet from other property lines and 300 feet from an adjacent residence on a neighboring property. However, the setbacks can be reduced by half if the adjoining property owner signs a waiver.
The earlier version required that any growing facility would have to be 100 feet from a front property line and 300 feet from other property lines.
The new version will have to go back before the commissioners for another public hearing and a vote before it can become permanent law.
Commissioner Todd Mielke said Tuesday that the board was trying to sort through neighborhood concerns raised by rural residents while being fair to potential growers.
But commissioners are obligated to uphold state laws, including the marijuana initiative, Mielke said.
Residents in rural areas have expressed concerns to commissioners about public safety and security and the odor of marijuana. Those concerns came up during Monday’s hearing.
Max Johnston said he has plans to invest $500,000 to try to get a growing operation going.
“I think the odor concern is vastly overstated,” he said. “I think the crime issue is vastly overstated as well.”
Another one of the potential growers described marijuana as “a good pioneering business.”
The Spokane Valley City Council last month eased its zoning restrictions on growing and packaging marijuana in industrial zones, citing the potential for jobs and economic growth. The council dropped a 1,000-foot buffer around the Centennial Trail. Retail stores are still subject to mandatory state buffers.