UPDATE | City steps back from move to put pot farms on residential lands

Aspiring marijuana growers on Bainbridge may have to move their work indoors.

The Bainbridge Island City Council proposed Monday to limit marijuana growing operations to indoor facilities in the business/industrial area near Day Road.

If given final approval after a public hearing later this month, the council’s proposal would reject the Bainbridge Island Planning Commission’s narrow 4-3 recommendation to allow marijuana growing in select residential areas.

Not everyone on the council was eager to ditch the commission’s advice.

“I am inclined to give some weight to the planning commission decision, because the process and time they put into it,” said Councilman Val Tollefson.

“But I am also sensitive to the fact that, although the planning commission usually tries to do these things by consensus, they weren’t able to this time,” he added.

Beyond allowing marijuana-growing operations on residentially-zoned properties of more than one acre, the commission’s recommendation also suggested allowing retail pot shops within Bainbridge’s existing commercially-zoned areas, placing marijuana processing in the business/industrial area near Day Road and banning collective gardens for medical marijuana.

The new regulations would also require businesses to follow state-mandated conditions that marijuana businesses cannot be within 1,000 feet of public areas like schools and churches.

Bainbridge has likewise been allotted a single marijuana retail outlet by the state.

The most controversial piece of the planning commission’s recommendations has been the suggestion to allow Tier 1 marijuana-growing operations on properties in the R-0.4 zoning district, a residential zone that allows one house per acre.

Tier 1 producers are the smallest allowed under state regulations, and licenses allow growing operations of less than 2,000 square feet of plant canopy.

While Tollefson said he supported the commission’s recommendations, Mayor Anne Blair brought forward an altogether separate proposal that carried more consensus with the council.

The ordinance requires marijuana production to be limited to indoor facilities in the business/industrial zone subject to several conditions. A site plan review and design review permit would be required and must be approved prior to any legal pot operations getting a business license. Electricity usage must also be offset by 50 percent new renewable energy sources generated on Bainbridge Island.

The new proposal would omit the Tier 1 limitation and open the door for growers interested in Tier 2 or 3 production. Tier 2 consists of 2,000 to 10,000 square feet of plant canopy, and Tier 3 includes 10,000 to 30,000 square feet.

In a unanimous vote, the council forwarded the new ordinance to be scheduled for a public hearing on May 12.

Blair’s proposal reflects the divide in the community response to the planning commission’s recommendation.

Prior to Monday’s council meeting, the city received a flurry of letters from islanders on the subject.

While a slight majority of the letters were in favor of the planning commission’s proposal, others expressed concern that there would be consequences to putting pot farms on residential land.

Residents wrote that allowing marijuana growing operations in residential areas would hurt nearby property values, expose children to the drug and lead to an increase in criminal activity.

In Monday’s meeting, Arthur Mortell, a real estate agent at Coldwell Banker, told the council that whether or not the farms would be small and safe, the market is based on perception, and pot farms would hurt property values on Bainbridge.

When a seller asks if a pot farm nearby will impact their home’s value, it’s an obvious answer that it will, he said.

“The fact that they even asked that question, just that fear, that perception that it could, already answers the question, which yes it will,” Mortell said.

For example, Mortell said, a couple recently turned away a property because the next door neighbor had moss on their roof and a blue tarp over a car.

He asked them what their thoughts on the property were, and they said the neighbor’s house looked like a meth lab.

“Just the perception of a problem next door and the house is still sitting on the market,” Mortell said. “It’s all about perception.”

The council will continue discussing marijuana regulations on Bainbridge in a public hearing on May 12, during its regular business meeting.

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