Changes proposed to Columbia County marijuana land use ordinance include prohibitions, more industrial zone compatibility

Land use regulations that could prohibit future marijuana grow operations from rural residential areas will come back before Columbia County commissioners Wednesday, Jan. 24.

Commissioners Henry Heimuller and Margaret Magruder reviewed proposed amendments to the county's land use rules for marijuana Wednesday, Jan. 17. Commissioner Alex Tardif was absent.

County officials say after a little over two years of working with the marijuana guidelines, which were adopted in 2015, they've noticed some areas for improvement.SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Glen Higgins of Columbia County Land Development Services addresses county commissioners during a public hearing on marijuana land use rules Wednesday, Jan. 17.

"When we first started out doing this, there was a little dysfunction between the state of Oregon and Columbia County," Glen Higgins, planning manager with the county's Land Development Services department said. "The first thing we're doing is modifying the procedural process ... in conjunction with the state."

Since the county adopted its ordinances in November 2015, county staff have processed and accepted 45 applications for marijuana operations, county documents indicate. Of those 45 applications, most have been for marijuana growing and processing. To date, 36 applicants have applied to grow and process marijuana in resource zones, while an additional four applications have been for rural residential zones, and one in a light industrial area.

The county has also processed three applications for dispensaries, and one wholesaling and processing application for a heavy industrial zone.

One of the most significant proposed changes is the removal of rural residential zones, referred to as "RR-5" from the acceptable zones for growing marijuana, even if indoors.

The recommendation came from the Columbia County Planning Commission, which considered complaints of odor and light from neighbors of existing grow sites in residential areas.

"RR-5 is a gray area," Lincoln Herman of St. Helens told commissioners. "It's where [agriculture], residential and forest meet. A prohibition, I think frankly, would run counter to the intent of the RR-5 zone."

Grow operations already up and running in RR-5 zones would be grandfathered in.

While some residential areas may no longer be viable spots for growing, county leaders may consider allowing marijuana operations in airport industrial zones.

That portion of the proposed revisions struck a chord with residents.

Randy Ward of Vernonia urged commissioners to keep the proposed addition of airport industrial zones, saying those areas need as much industry as possible.Ward

"The neighbors across the way from the airport do not object to the airport industrial area being changed for marijuana growing. In fact, it's a pretty good place for it," Ward said of the private airport in Vernonia.

Tim Bero, who owns a manufacturing business in Vernonia, said allowing more industry types near the airport is crucial to bring in jobs.

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