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New rules could expand grow site buffer zones, restrict lighting and air filtration

Additional land use rules for marijuana businesses could be on the way.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Columbia County commissioners and staff convene at an afternoon staff meeting Wednesday, March 8, to discuss revised land use regulations for marijuana businesses. Pictured left to right: Commissioners Alex Tardif, Henry Heimuller, Margaret Magruder, Land Development Services Director Todd Dugdale and Glen Higgins, also of LDS.Columbia County commissioners voted Wednesday afternoon, March 8, to initiate more regulations for marijuana grow sites, processors and retailers.

Among the proposed changes to the county's current land use regulations for marijuana growing is a 1,000-foot buffer between schools, childcare facilities and public parks. The 1,000-foot restriction already applies to retailers, but the new rules would extend to marijuana grow sites and would be measured from property line to property line.

Other proposed requirements include approval of a site's air filtration system by a registered mechanical engineer and restrictions on the amount of artificial light from a grow operation that can be seen from neighboring properties.

The proposed changes were developed by Glen Higgins and Todd Dugdale, both from the county's Land Development Services Department.

Dugdale, the department's director, and Higgins said the goal is to eliminate impacts from marijuana operations in residential areas, many zoned RR-5, while cleaning up the rules and clarifying the process for marijuana business hopefuls who seek state and county approval.

"I realize that's a bit more aggressive approach and there will be some pushback," Dugdale said. "I think in light of some of the compatibility issues we have reviewed in RR-5, this would eliminate that concern."

Since adopting land use regulations for marijuana in November 2015, the county has seen disapproval from neighboring property owners complaining of odors, noise and bright lights associated with grow operations and processing sites.

Last year, Columbia County received its first appeal from a marijuana business challenging the county's regulations for setback requirements on grow sites.

After establishing a site that didn't meet county regulations, OHM Equity Partners requested a variance to waive the setback requirements for an indoor grow operation on rural residential property in Warren.

The county denied the variance, saying the 2,880-square-foot detached building pegged for growing did not meet the 55-foot setback requirements. The accessory building was eight feet from the property line. An appeal was heard by commissioners, but ultimately denied last month.

"I think that it's within reason that if there are potential impacts from retail, there are impacts from grow operations as well," Columbia County Commissioner Henry Heimuller said, referring to increased buffer zones within the county's marijuana grow site regulations. "The rest of it isn't really gonna raise any eyebrows among the grow community; however, this one is gonna fill the courtroom."

A list of current regulations, along with highlighted lists of new proposed changes, was presented to commissioners during an afternoon staff meeting.

Commissioners opted to begin the review process for the new regulations, which will require Planning Commission review and approval before commissioners get the final vote.

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