The EverGreen Scene: Concerned residents aim to repeal pot land-use code

Colt Sweetland, Assistant News Editor

Concerned Ellensburg residents rallied at the Kittitas County commissioners’ public hearing and asked for the repeal of a recently passed ordinance, spurred by two new marijuana facilities to be constructed in the agricultural-20 zone.

The residents, who attended the commissioners’ public hearing on May 20, were part of a group called Save Our Agricultural and Rural Space (SOARS). Many of them wore bright orange stickers that said “REPEAL.”

The residents submitted a petition with 130 signatures to the county commissioners to repeal the land-use ordinance.

The proposed marijuana facilities will be constructed near the residents’ homes. Many who spoke at the public hearing are concerned the facilities will bring unwanted attention to their neighborhood.

“We think very much that the ordinance is a mistake, and we’d like that to be reconsidered,” said John Ufkes, a resident who lives across from Carroll road.

Commissioner responds

Obie O’Brien, Kittitas County commissioner, said  he would like to make changes to the current land-use ordinance, which involve requiring all marijuana growing and processing operations to obtain a land-use permit.

“Currently, the code says lots of 10-19.99 acres have to go through [the administrative conditional use permit] (ACUP) but for 20 acres and above, it’s just out-right permitted,” O’Brien said. “I want to change that to say no you need to go through the permit process. That will allow us to double check about the water issues and allow people to be notified in the neighborhood.”

O’Brien said he wants to see these changes come into effect immediately. The process to make the necessary changes to the ordinance would take about five to six weeks.

Safety concerns

Hillary Ivarson, who lives on Boston Road, said she did not see how the facilities match the requirements as part of the ordinance for the agricultural zoned land.

“I see in no way shape or form that this kind of facility falls under the specified land uses in the ordinance,” Ivarson said. “A facility such as this, only belongs in an industrial, commercial zone.”

According to Ivarson, there is worry about increased crime if the facilities were to be constructed.

She also said that she worries about how long it would take law enforcement to respond to the a call if something went wrong regarding the facilities. She told the commissioners she would like the ordinance repealed.

Timothy hay issues

Brian Cortese, who represented Kittitas County timothy hay growers and suppliers, said that he was concerned about the potential impacts that marijuana facilities could have on the hay crop.

He also said that there would be a risk of contamination to hay because of the marijuana facilities.

“While growing marijuana could yield some additional tax funding for the county, it could also severely damage the largest industry in the county,” Cortese said. “Weeds can negatively impact sale of hay to foreign buyers, and more critically, if buyers found any marijuana plants grown in a timothy field, all buyers could ban buying timothy hay for years to come.”

Reuse potential of the facilities

Steve Verhey, who is running against commissioner Obie O’Brien in the upcoming election, said if there were objections to the proposed location of the marijuana facilities by local authorities, they could be relocated without refiling an application.

“It seems to me that the place for an operation like that would be in land that is already zoned light-industrial,” Verhey said. “For a variety of reasons, if and when the [marijuana] operation ends, the building, if constructed on light-industrial land, will remain and become a county asset and can be used by other businesses.”

Slow down

Ralph Kratz, who lives near Carroll road, said that he has concerns about the location, the property value impact and safety regarding the marijuana facilities.

He also said the commissioners should repeal the ordinance and place a moratorium on the production to allow time to study the issue in greater depth.