Pot farm: Legal is allowed, Island County Hearing Examiner says

Adam Lind (left) listens during a public hearing in Coupeville Thursday concerning his proposed marijuana production facility in Bayview. A hearing examiner is expected to issue a decision within two weeks regarding whether or not the controversial proposal complies with existing rules and requirements.

You may not like having a pot farm sprout up in your backyard, but that doesn’t mean it’s illegal.

A key land use official made that clear to a crowd of about 30 people during a public hearing in Coupeville on Thursday. The meeting was the final step in the review process of a site plan for Now in Zen, a proposed 30,000-square-foot marijuana production facility located off Bayview Road. Many of those in attendance were against the new business and urged its rejection or delay. Opponents cited a host of unsubstantiated concerns; one man even said it should be rejected whether it meets code or not.

“The majority of the people who live in the area surrounding this business are not in favor of it … just because something is legal doesn’t necessarily mean it should be allowed,” said Richard Townsley, who lives about a mile south of the proposed farm site.

“I’m sorry, sir, but that is not correct,” Island County Hearing Examiner Michael Bobbink responded.

“If it is legal, it is allowed.”

“This is not a voting situation, it’s a legal situation — like a courtroom,” he added. “We have the laws and they will be reviewed and the facts will be determined. And if they [the applicants] meet the requirements, they are absolutely entitled to their license whether neighbors like it or not.”

Now in Zen, proposed by Adam Lind and Paul Petersen, is in line to become South Whidbey’s first approved marijuana production facility.

Though highly regulated by, and subject to, state rules, it’s still required to go through a county permitting process, and final approval of the plan rests with the hearing examiner. The issuance of building permits could follow.

Bobbink is expected to release his written decision within two weeks.

The business proposes outdoor and indoor growing areas, two greenhouses and three shipping containers. The entire operation is surrounded by an 8-foot-tall wall of corrugated metal and wood.

Though the proposal was made public in January during a community meeting, it only recently became a source of controversy. Residents complained that the project is an eyesore, presents environmental and water problems, poses a security threat, will be a source of overpowering odor, is a threat to rural character and will lower property values.

One of the most commonly shared worries is water, particularly how much the farm will use on a daily basis — some project opponents speculated it could be up to six gallons per plant a day — and the effect that would have on nearby community wells.

“The water situation where we are is quite critical at times,” said Kathleen Martin, a Bayview resident.

Others said they are worried about potential toxic impacts on the environment and wildlife.

Corey Glassman, who lives near Lone Lake, said he worried about “toxicity,” that runoff could have impacts on lake fish and that “bunnies” could get under the fence, which might later be consumed by “eagles.”

Not everyone attending the meeting is against the proposal.

Chad Martin, also an area resident, recommended the business be approved to “go full-speed ahead.”

The fence, a source of common complaint, he said, is made of the same materials as many pole buildings and roofs across Whidbey Island.

“There’s been thousands of them approved,” Martin said.

“It seems like lots of the opposition is rooted in fear and speculation, what might happen, what could happen, but really devoid of sound facts and reasoning,” he added.

Curtis Nelson, a Seattle resident, said he agrees.

“I’m strongly in favor of this pot farm … the opposition to this seems to be mainly fear-based,” Nelson said. “I’ve listened to a lot of different concerns and numbers; I haven’t heard anyone actually basing their speculation in fact.”

Nelson said he researched marijuana plant water usage as well and that his findings are closer to one gallon per plant per day.

Following the public comment portion of the hearing, Lind addressed water usage. He said that outdoor growing areas would be watered on average about “once every three days.” Indoor growing would be different, operating on “recirculating, closed hydroponic system,” which he said was the most efficient method.

Lind did not offer a specific gallon-per-day estimate.

Lind said he takes the state and county requirements seriously.

“I want to ensure everybody that we have been following the rules and regulations and we will continue to follow the rules and regulations,” he said.

Lind said that the business was assigned an enforcement officer from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Control Board who will inspect the property at least once a year.

“If we stumble along the way and make a mistake, we will make sure that we comply very quickly,” Lind said.

“It would be best if you avoid stumbling,” Bobbink interjected.

“Exactly,” Lind agreed.

Following the meeting, Jim Hyde, one of the business’ most vocal critics, said he expects Bobbink will green light the site plan and promised to appeal that decision.

“If that fails, we’ll look for the basis of a lawsuit,” Hyde said.