South Whidbey’s first marijuana production facility will flower or die before an independent land use official in Coupeville next week.
Now in Zen, a proposed pot farm off Bayview Road, was pitched to the public at a community meeting in January. Six months have passed and the business is nearly through the county’s permit process. It has but one more step before it can secure building permits: getting a final nod from Island County Hearing Examiner Michael Bobbink.
Bobbink will review the application and hold a public hearing at 10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 18 in the Commissioners’ Hearing Room.
The applicants, Adam Lind and Paul Petersen, declined a telephone interview with The Record, but in an email said they were looking forward to being trailblazers in a new industry.
“Paul and I are excited to be on the forefront of normalizing cannabis and tapping into the medical benefits,” they said in a joint statement.
Not everyone is so enthused, however, as the public’s mellow reception of the proposal appears to have soured. According to county documents, 10 people submitted comments during a public comment period in April, volunteering concerns ranging from odor and blocked views to potential environmental and tourism impacts. And more recently, a group of neighbors who oppose the business are organizing and appear to be forging plans to challenge the project should it get a green light from Bobbink.
The group, which leaders say is more than a dozen strong and encompasses primarily property owners in the Lone Lake area, is also planning a public meeting of its own, according to organizers Jim Hyde and Mary Jane Miller. It’s set to take place two days before Thursday’s hearing at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 16 at Deer Lagoon Grange on Bayview Road.
The couple say the meeting is open to the public and that Lind and Petersen will not be turned away but that their time at the microphone may be limited. The meeting is for those against the proposal, not proponents, they said.
“I’ve heard enough from them already,” Hyde said.
Now in Zen is proposed on a 1-acre piece of farmland owned by Kim and Kenneth Kramer. The 30,000-square-foot operation would be the largest footprint allowed. As proposed, it will include a total of five buildings: two greenhouses, one 20 feet by 60 feet and another 20 feet by 40 feet; and three standard-sized large shipping containers.
The operation would have both indoor — greenhouses — and outdoor growing areas. The shipping containers would be used for drying, according to county planning documents.
The entire farm is fully enclosed behind an 8-foot-tall fence of corrugated metal and wood, and monitored with security cameras as required by state law. Access to the site would be severely limited and no direct sales permitted.
Though Island County Planning and Community Development, the primary review agency for the project, says the applicants have met all requirements and a recommendation for approval was issued subject to a host of conditions, Hyde and Miller and other residents believe the project is inappropriate and rife with problems.
First and foremost, they’re concerned about impacts to the environment, particularly when it comes to water. Hyde said the plan was pitched as a “closed” water system but that it would be “impossible” to have zero runoff in this climate and if growing occurs outdoors in the ground. He worries that it will have a negative effect on what is a shared aquifer; the business would utilize both rain water and an onsite well.
He’s not alone in his fears.
“Everyone around the lake is concerned about their wells,” said Jeannie Schick, a Lone Lake resident. “If they are using the well, it will affect the water table.”
Schick is concerned about runoff but says potential water usage is alarming. Research by the State of California suggests marijuana plants can require up to 6 gallons of water per day, she claimed.
The wall around the business is another point of contention for residents. Hyde and Miller say it’s an indication that such a business invites crime, and being one of the nearest neighbors, they worry it will spill onto their property.
“It implies there could be violence in my front yard,” Hyde said.
“The fence says it all,” Miller added.
She also noted that the material is highly reflective.
“It literally glares at me during sunset,” she said.
The wall has been a source of trouble for the applicants and regulators as well. According to county Senior Planner Janet Wright’s staff report and recommendation for approval of Now in Zen’s site plan, an application for a building permit was submitted on May 17, and county officials received complaints on May 30 that construction had already begun. A stop work order was issued June 2.
Work on the fence continued, however, which was confirmed June 8 by planning staff who visited the property, the report says. On June 21, a shipping container was observed onsite by planning staff and the fence nearly completed. At a meeting the next day with the applicants, planners were told the applicants believed the permit had already been issued. The permit was issued the same day. The container was also removed in July per the county’s order, according to the report.
Lind and Petersen did not respond to a request to address the issue. As per the other concerns, they issued the following written statements:
“Security: We comply to Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Control Board requirements for a cannabis production site.
Environmental Issues: Hydroponic systems are enclosed and reused on outdoor drip system for zero liquid waste. Solid waste will be composted and reused.
Odor: Carbon filtration will be used during the drying and curing process to eliminate odors.”
According to Wright, the fence will require additional landscape screening of native species. She also noted that 50 percent of the property must be used for open space.
If the project is OK’d by the hearing examiner next week, the business could then begin securing building permits, Wright said.
It remains unclear when Now in Zen might open; although asked, Lind and Petersen did not include a response in its email to The Record.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Now in Zen would “produce” and “process” marijuana. The business would be a “production” operation only; processing requires a separate state license.