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YEAR IN REVIEW - Land sale to proposed cannabis cultivation park prompts complaints, lawsuit

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - Al Petersen, a St. Helens business owner speaks in opposition to the proposed sale agreement of an 8.2-acre piece of St. Helens industrial property to a cannabis cultivation agriculture park during a public hearing in November. Petersen cited his concerns that the City Council did not follow proper procedure to authorize the sale. SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - Al Petersen, a St. Helens business owner speaks in opposition to the proposed sale agreement of an 8.2-acre piece of St. Helens industrial property to a cannabis cultivation agriculture park during a public hearing in November. Petersen cited his concerns that the City Council did not follow proper procedure to authorize the sale. YEAR IN REVIEW — This fall, the city of St. Helens voted to move forward with the sale of an 8.2-acre piece of industrial property to ACSP LLC, which is proposing to start a cannabis cultivation agricultural park in the city.

At this point the sale has not closed, however, though a city official indicated a sale agreement is likely to be in place after several outstanding details are addressed by the city's administrative staff and legal counsel.

Notably, the industrial property being targeted by ACSP has been appraised at $1.55 million, considerably less than the city's asking price, documents show.

The City Council ultimately agreed to move forward with the sale in November on a 3-0 vote, but its approval followed a bumpy process.

In summer 2017, the city signed a lease agreement with ACSP to use land located on the former Boise paper mill property, which the city has begun referring to as St. Helens Industrial Park.

The agreement included an option to purchase the property after five years; however, earlier this year, the city began the process of converting the lease into a sale agreement well in advance of the five-year option.

A public hearing was held in June for the property sale, but limited information was provided at the meeting, prompting complaints from some city residents. A records request filed by the Spotlight for a copy of the proposed sale agreement, which included the purchase price and other details, was filled just hours before the public hearing. The record provided was a draft agreement.

Al Petersen, a St. Helens business owner, filed a letter with the city citing his concerns in August, and other residents raised similar issues at a later City Council meeting.

In September, St. Helens lawyers Agnes Petersen — who is Al Petersen's mother — and Robert VanNatta filed a civil suit against the city for failure to follow proper procedures during the June public hearing, as well as concerns about the legality of the limited liability company and connections it has with other LLCs in the state.

The lawsuit also identified Councilor Keith Locke for damages. Locke has developed a personal friendship with one of the business partners for ACSP, Alex Reverman of Portland, and in 2017 Locke took a personal trip to Mexico with Reverman.

Locke has abstained from voting publicly on the sale agreement, but in the past has attended closed session meetings related to the ACSP sale agreement.

While the lawsuit is ongoing in circuit court, the City Council held a second public hearing regarding sale of the land in November. At that meeting, the majority of people who gave testimony spoke in opposition to the sale, citing concerns about placing an agricultural business on industrial land and over saturation of the marijuana market.

The City Council voted following the hearing to approve the sale, with Locke abstaining and Councilor Doug Morten absent.

In late November, Agnes Petersen and VanNatta filed a motion to dismiss their lawsuit against the city.

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