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Council members offer different options for marijuana-growing operations

The Bainbridge City Council may walk back from the planning commission's recommendation to allow marijuana growing businesses on residential-zoned land.

At Monday's council meeting, Mayor Anne Blair said she wanted the city to change its proposed ordinance on marijuana growing, processing and retailing businesses to restrict marijuana grows to business-industrial zoned land.

The planning commission, on a split 4-3 vote, earlier recommended that the city allow Tier 1 marijuana-growing businesses (operations of less than 2,000 square feet of plant canopy) on properties in Residential-0.4 zoning that are one acre or larger.

Some islanders are strongly opposed to the prospect of legal marijuana growing operations sprouting up on residential land across the island.  Others on Bainbridge, including neighbors to landowners on Old Mill Road who have plans for a marijuana greenhouse, support marijuana growing businesses on residential properties.

At Monday's council meeting, two council members — Blair and Councilman Val Tollefson — noted that they had presented their views on the proposed ordinance on the city's website.

In her viewpoint, Blair said she wanted to change the new regulations to limit marijuana production facilities to indoor grow operations on land zoned for business-industrial uses.

Marijuana growers would also have to offset their use of electricity, and get site plan approval and design review approval from the city.

Blair said she considered public and community comments on the issue, science and academic papers, and her own personal biases to come up with her proposal.

Blair's viewpoint:

"Tonight’s City Council Meeting Agenda includes discussion and consideration of Ordinance 2014 – 06, Establishing Zoning Regulations for Recreational Marijuana Processing, Retailing and Production (Growing) Businesses.

Like everyone on the council, the majority of the city staff and many, many island residents, I have given much thought to wisest way to approach zoning for pot growing on Bainbridge Island. As I have made pro/con lists based on community comments, I’ve considered the input from my neighbors and constituents across Bainbridge. I’ve included my personal biases, as well as those taken from popular science and academic papers.

I also have read and discussed numerous articles about how the State of Colorado and their local governments and those of neighboring Washington state jurisdictions are approaching the production, processing and selling of marijuana.

That’s to say: My vote tonight will be based on varied input. It will reflect my perception of and intention to do what I most hope “fits” Bainbridge at this time.

If appropriate, I will seek to amend the proposed Ordinance 2014-06 at tonight’s meeting to read:

Marijuana Producers: Marijuana production (growing) is limited to indoor facilities in the Business/Industrial zone subject to the following conditions:

A) A site plan and design review permit is required and must be approved prior to any city approval of business licenses or other required permits.

B) Electricity usage must be offset by 50 percent renewable energy generated on-site. The offset requirements are progressive: 25 percent consumption offset by January 2015, or within 9 months of initial crop planting; and 50 percent consumption offset by January 2016, or within 2 years of initial crop planting.

C) Water usage must include 25 percent site-generated recycled water by January 2016 or within 2 years of initial crop planting.

These five points summarize my rationale for this amendment.

1. Marijuana is a highly regulated crop. Because of its perception-altering effects on many people, it is NOT a crop like carrots or kale or even hops.

2. It is not legally usable except in Washington state and Colorado by adults 21 years or older.

3. It is not accessible for purchase except through state-regulated and licensed retailers.

4. The numerous state regulations regarding its growth, processing and use, as well as our local attention and concerns about growing area/production security protection provisions acknowledge that this is an agricultural business crop worthy of strict oversight and regulation.

5. I cannot identify the “public benefit” of growing marijuana akin to the highly valued public benefit of growing food crops locally.

Fortunately, tonight’s discussion is not the end of this conversation. We will have a public hearing on this ordinance in two weeks. I will listen and consider what I hear during that public hearing. I also will continue to welcome conversation and discussion about both my thinking and the recommendation(s) that come from those thoughts. I hope that makes it obvious that my thinking may change! Onward!"

In his written comments on the issue, Tollefson recalled that some had raised worries of increased crime or damaging impacts to teens and children if marijuana grows were allowed on the island.

He noted that marijuana businesses would be tightly regulated and controlled, and fears that marijuana farms would damage property values were not well-founded.

Tollefson suggested increasing the minimum lot area to 2.5 acres for properties that could house marijuana-growing greenhouses.

Tollefson's viewpoint:

"A note re: the proposed marijuana ordinance

I wanted to share my thoughts in advance of the discussion scheduled for the April 28 council meeting, and to suggest a possible solution.

I believe there is consensus as to three of the four proposals made by the planning commission.

I believe council agrees that we would prohibit collective gardens, and allow retail and processing within the limitations proposed by the planning commission.

The remaining issue is whether to allow production (growing), and if so, where.

The planning commission was spit four in favor of allowing outdoor and greenhouse operations in the R-0.4 zone, on lots of at least 1 acre; and, three in favor of allowing production only in the business/industrial zone.

Public concerns:

There has been much public comment both for and against the Planning Commission majority position.

As I read it, the public comment AGAINST production in the R-0.4 zone is mainly that:

1. Public safety will be threatened. There will be a rise in neighborhood crime.

2. Children in the neighborhood will be put at heightened physical and psychological risk by the presence of marijuana production.

3. Marijuana will become readily available to adolescents, whose health can be damaged by use.

4. Neighbors will be subjected to noxious odors and intrusive lighting.

5. Property values will be damaged.

With regard to each of these subjects, please consider:

Public Safety: The security requirements imposed by the State Liquor Control Board on marijuana grow operations are substantial, and should be effective. No processing or retail sales will be permitted on a production property, so the fear related to excessive comings and goings does not appear well-founded. Marijuana will soon be widely, legally available throughout Washington. The threat of theft of a marijuana crop is probably best compared to the threat of burglary for the purpose of stealing the contents of a liquor cabinet from a home protected by a security system. The security provisions coupled with the ease of procuring marijuana elsewhere should minimize any legitimate concern about crime at the growing site.

Some expressed public safety concerns have arisen from knowledge of illegal marijuana activity in some neighborhoods. Keep in mind that such illegal activity also involved illegal sales, all clandestine activity. The agricultural operation involved in legal growing is clearly distinguishable.

Child safety: It is hard to conceive how any agricultural activity contained on private property could have a negative impact on a passer-by, whatever the age. It may be understandable that some parents would simply rather that their children not know that marijuana exists anywhere, let alone in their own neighborhood. Both with regard to this issue, and to the issue of availability to adolescents, I am impressed by the comments of my 14- and 16-year-old grandchildren. Everyone that age, and many much younger, knows that marijuana is used by some children, knows who at least some of those children are, and knows how to obtain marijuana if desired. These are facts on the ground today.

Keeping our children and grandchildren from the illegal use and damaging effects of alcohol and marijuana is not at all related to hiding the fact that those products exist. The operation of a brewery and distillery in the business park across the street from our intermediate and middle schools has not seemed to cause community concern.

Adolescent use: There seems to be wide agreement that abuse of marijuana by adolescents can have damaging effects on mental development. But the fact is that marijuana, although illegal, is widely available now. As legal access for adults becomes more common, a new avenue will be opened for illegal access by adolescents. It does not follow that allowing growing in a secured site on private property will increase the availability for adolescents.

Marijuana has reportedly been widely grown on Bainbridge Island for years. Adolescents who are in the market for illegal marijuana are buying it, not stealing it from growers.

Odor and light: Bainbridge Island already has in place regulations concerning air pollution and outdoor lighting (including interior lighting intruding on the outdoors). There doesn’t seem to be a good reason to have a special standard, although we should insist that existing regulations be followed.

Property values: The concern about impact on property values is raised each time there is a new permitted use, or regulated or prohibited use on private property. Experience has not proven such general fears to be well-founded. I believe the increased minimum lot size I propose makes any negative impact on neighboring properties even more remote.

My proposal:

I propose that we amend proposed Ordinance 2014-06 as follows:

Section 4. K.6.b. is amended to read “Minimum lot area of 2.5 acres required:

Section 4. K.6. new subsection g: “Any greenhouse used for cultivation of marijuana shall be a structure with a glass or rigid plastic roof and glass or rigid plastic walls designed and used to create an artificial climate for the growing of the crop. The structure shall not be used as a place for human habitation nor shall it be a place used by the general public.”

Section 4. K.6., new subsection h: “ All marijuana retail, processing and production operations are subject to the provisions of the Washington Clean Air Act (Chapter 70.94 RCW), and the Air Quality Emissions performance standards described in BIMC 18.06.030.B.2. City staff will forward any pre-application conference materials required for Site Plan and Design Review permits for any marijuana operations to the Puget Sound Clear Air Agency for review and comment.

Section 4. K.6., new subsection i: “All marijuana retail, processing and production operations are subject to the lighting provisions of BIMC 18.15.040, including without limitation BIMC 18.15.040(B).

If this amendment is agreed, then I would move to schedule the second reading / public hearing for Ordinance 2014-06, as amended, on May 12, 2014.

And in conclusion:

I appreciate your taking the time to read this, and think seriously about it. I realize that some of you may have made up your minds in some other direction The majority may agree with this approach, or may not.

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