Commissioners vote unanimously to remove RR-5 zones from marijuana land use rules

Despite hesitation and criticism of proposed amendments to Columbia County's marijuana ordinance, commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday, Jan. 24, to prohibit marijuana grow operations in rural residential zones.

The prohibition marked the most substantial change to the county's marijuana land use rules. Conditions that could allow marijuana growing and processing in airport industrial zones are slated to be discussed at a later time.SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Columbia County Commissioners Alex Tardif, Margaret Magruder and Henry Heimuller debate proposed revisions to the countys marijuana land use rules during a public meeting Wednesday, Jan. 24.

While Commissioners Margaret Magruder and Henry Heimuller voiced support for the changes, Commissioner Alex Tardif questioned the merits of the revisions to residential zones.

"When we had started this process, we talked about making it a true five-acre minimum," Tardif noted. "Through our process, we have removed RR-5 entirely. If we move forward with this recommendation, we are telling people with 20 acres in an RR-5 that they're prohibited, but those with a 10-acre parcel in a [primary forest]-80 that they're permitted."

Tardif pointed out that residents in rural residential areas can obtain home occupation permits for a variety of uses.

"I don't think we have the research or information available to truly determine what a neighborhood impact would be on a parcel that is following our lighting ordinance and our air quality ordinance," the commissioner added.

"You're absolutely right," Heimuller replied. "And for those players who do everything right, the impacts are minimal ... there's a bunch of cannabis growers out there who are upstanding business owners that do everything absolutely right. Just like in every other business, there are those that also create a mess and create a lot of issues for their neighbors, whether it's odor or traffic or other."

"I don't think we're gonna have a land use ordinance that protects every single person," he concluded.

Despite dissecting the ordinance revisions, when it came time to vote on them, Tardif first fell silent when Magruder called for all votes in favor. When the chairwoman called for opposition votes, Tardif also took pause, before replying that he would vote in favor of the changes, as recommended by staff.

While the county is likely to consider opening up airport industrial zones for marijuana cultivation, Wednesday's decision was a clear indication the commissioners aren't comfortable with permitting pot grows in areas where neighbors are

close enough to complain about the impacts.

"I do feel we need to somehow lessen the burden on the rural residential areas where these neighborhood disputes, I think, will continue," Magruder noted before voting, referring to a recent appeal hearing on a permit for an indoor marijuana grow in a Rainier subdivision that drew criticism from neighboring property owners.

Wednesday's vote marks a tentative decision that will require final approval of a revised marijuana ordinance.

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