Spokane County planning commissioners heard an earful Thursday about a nose-full of marijuana odor, as they considered revising where pot businesses can operate.
Carl Caughran, a rural landowner near Cheney, said his wife now suffers asthmatic symptoms from what he called a “skunk-like” smell wafting over property lines from a big growing operation next door.
Caughran said a Tier 2 growing operation, which means the owner can have up to 10,000 square feet of growing cannabis, opened next door without notice. He agrees with imposing a moratorium on new growers and producers based on his experience, he said.
Voters approved marijuana for recreational use in 2012.
The opponents’ testimony led to the suggestion of stopping the licensing of new marijuana growers, producers and sellers within the county, an offer that met with some support from volunteers of the seven-member board that advises the County Commission on land-use issues.
The county does not license marijuana businesses. That process is handled by the state’s Liquor Control Board. County and city governments only have the authority to determine where retailers, producers and processors can do business.
In January, the Washington attorney general’s office declared cities and counties were within their legal rights to ban producers, processors and retailers through zoning codes, though at least one legal challenge has been made to a city outlawing marijuana sales.
“The Planning Commission does not have the authority to enact a moratorium in an interim ordinance. That can only come from the County Commission,” County Planning Director John Pederson said after several audience members requested such a provision in their testimony.
Caughran said he doesn’t object to the pot industry. “There’s a place for that industry,” he told the planning commission.
His property is zoned rural/traditional, a designation that allows for larger residential plots and “resource-based industries,” including ranching and farming. The current marijuana zoning ordinance for the county allows growing cannabis in these areas, among other properties zoned under the “rural” category, as long as growing operations are at least 300 feet from a home.
Caughran and others said that wasn’t enough room.
“On any given day, you can drive down the road and within a mile of the facility, you can start smelling that skunk smell,” Caughran told commissioners.
But Toni Nersesian, a grower in Spangle, urged the commission to remain fair in its buffer requirements for marijuana producers.
“A swine farm – 200 feet from your house,” Nersesian said. “A sewage sludge land application process – I can’t even imagine it – can be 50 feet from my house.”
According to county zoning codes, such a land application process includes “materials pumped from cesspools, septic tanks, sewage holding tanks and drywells.”
Bill Miller, who said he was helping his son start a farm near Spangle, said a moratorium or more stringent zoning regulations could shutter dozens of potential marijuana businesses.
“There’s been millions of dollars invested already, relying on new zoning ordinances the commissioners came up with,” Miller said.
Cindy Marshall testified directly after Miller, saying that although a stoppage could put dozens of business owners in a bind, the environmental effects were likely affecting a far greater number of people.
“The gentleman that just spoke said 55 people would be out of business if this is shut down,” Marshall said. “How many people are being affected right now, as property owners who are adjacent to these businesses?”
Landowner Caughran said he has no beef with growers making a profit. But he doesn’t believe they should be doing so in residential areas, and that’s what prompted a spirited response from about 20 residents who testified Thursday morning.
“It’s just out of place,” Caughran said. The County Planning Commission will accept written testimony through next week on the commission’s website.
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