Douglas pot plant won’t sprout
Despite meeting relevant land-use regulations, a plan for a medical marijuana cultivation facility located outside of Douglas was stopped in its tracks by the Cochise County Planning and Zoning Commission last week after neighbors voiced their opposition to it.
Residents near the potential site of a 3,000 square foot greenhouse turned in 43 signatures, representing about 30 properties, in opposition of Mesa resident Julia Patten’s application for a special-use permit, while she was the only property owner to support it. Although county staff recommended conditional approval of the permit, the commission was swayed by overwhelming opposition expressed by ten residents who spoke at the meeting about concerns regarding crime, water use, impact to roads, flooding and reduced property value.
In July, Patten was denied a special use authorization for the same use in an adjacent parcel of land, largely due to the submission of a deficient site plan, said Michael Turisk, county planning manager. Since the 4.8 parcel is located in a rural zoning district, the county’s 300 foot setback from residential areas for medical marijuana facilities does not apply in this case.
Patten and her two employees would live on the adjacent parcel and personally transport the marijuana to a dispensary in Mesa, so even though there would be commercial traffic, it would be minimal, Turisk said. Agriculture is an appropriate use for a rural zoning area and meets site development standards.
Yet the facility’s potential impact is not just a matter of standards or regulations. It would sit within a sparse rural neighborhood where people moved to find peace, quiet and a beautiful view. These residents made it clear that they feel these qualities would be threatened by the cultivation facility.
Heather Fugott lives with four children on the property touching the parcel in question on its West side, she said. “I strongly oppose this for the safety of my children, for the safety of myself, for the unwanted traffic, for the unwanted crime.”
Four of the ten residents who addressed the commission noted they are not against medical marijuana itself.
“I actually voted for the law because I truly believe in the properties of Marijuana and what it does for people that really cannot take any of the other drugs,” said Kathleen Eisenbeis, who lives next to Patten’s properties on the East. Yet she does not believe a marijuana cultivation facility should be located so far from a city, where it could be better protected.
“I believe in medical marijuana, I do not believe this is the place for it,” said Jennifer Arellano, another area resident. She is married to someone in law enforcement and does not want him to come home from work and have to worry about it in his backyard.
Area resident Maria Rachilla echoed Arellano’s concern about crime and violence, saying it can be expected.
“Google it,” she said.
Patten, in response to a question from commissioner Jay Sanger, later noted that Colorado has many marijuana dispensaries with less rigorous regulations than in Arizona’s new law and it has not seen an increase in crime.
“You can Google that,” Patten said.
These statements illustrate the difficulty of discussing the issue of crime because anecdotal evidence can be found to easily support either case.
Patten’s architect Brian Lockhart addressed the commission on her behalf and said, “I can’t answer the issue of crime, I don’t know that anybody can.”
Patten would have to comply with the Arizona Department of Health Services security requirements and would be subject to strict oversight by the state, Lockhart said. The county staff already set up conditions to help ensure road maintenance and improvements would be performed.
In terms of the appropriateness of the location, Patten said, “There isn’t anywhere in Arizona that a person could go without possibly developing opposition.”
Lockhart also said that Patten estimated that she only needs 10 gallons of water per day to operate the facility, which Sanger and the residents found to be unrealistic.
It seems low to Lockhart too but even a much higher figure would not equate to as much as that used by a three or four person family, he said.
Before recommending conditional approval of the special use permit, Turisk noted that staff based its consideration on a technical evaluation of land-use implications.
“By virtue of use, no matter where it is proposed it would generate a great deal of emotion,” he said. Staff recommended that a masonry wall be constructed around the property instead of the proposed chain link fence.
Sanger felt like the issues relating to water use, flooding, light pollution and crime had not been adequately answered, he said. “I think crime is the biggest thing and I don’t think anybody has an answer for that.”
Jim Lynch, the commission’s chairman, noted that there are other factors than just county code that weigh on whether or not some special uses are appropriate, he said. “It seems to me, while this is not a residentially zoned area…that we ought to take into consideration the concerns of the surrounding residents.
“In my opinion what the opposition has expressed here is pretty overwhelming.”
The seven commissioners cast a unanimous vote against the application and Patten has until April 26th to appeal the decision to the Cochise County Board of Supervisors. Commission member Ron Bemis was absent.