Pictures of the farm. The buildings are shown in the two top pictures, the one on the right is the process building where the grow occurs. It was designed in the spirit of "form based zoning" that is of the thought that a building should be designed for the intended look, feel, and functionality of the surrounding environment. In this case, a barn for a rural agricultural area that sports many beautiful barns. My wife was insistent, "Our buildings need to look like barns to fit in with the rural character".
In addition to the barns, the bottom picture shows a portion of the orchard planted to serve the extended family's need for fruit, and to help double as a screen for the operation, which really needs no screen other than the design of the barn to fit in with the area. The total orchard currently includes over 50 fruit trees. The deer fence necessary to protect the fruit from the many deer that live on and around the farm can be seen in the background.
A few words about Local Marijuana Politics
On our page discussing varieties for 2016, I mentioned that a new grower ended up in Port Angeles after experiencing a dysfunctional permitting process in Clallam County. Unfortunately, not all jurisdictions are handling the new task of permitting marijuana businesses to help implement I-502 the same. Indeed, some are still playing a game of catch me if you can when it comes to permits, and use a wide variety of bureaucratic tools to prevent marijuana growers from being located where they belong; in rural/agricultural areas. They have done this across the state in a number of ways. And unfortunately, Clallam County has become one of these jurisdictions, and there are a number of businesses which have succumbed to this political strategy. Essential Flowers being just one example.
I am one of the few who was able to make it through a permitting quagmire of regulations that literally changed on a monthly basis according to the political read of politicians at the County courthouse. Most succumbed to the vast array of what government workers familiar with land use laws and regulations refer to as "regulatory barriers"; requirements and standards thrown in the way of development that more likely than not have no valid public purpose and that stifle development. The result is the piling of requirements on a developer that are costly and in many cases down right silly, until the business can no longer afford the requirements, or the delays, and goes out of business, or simply chooses to give up.
There are many examples of this locally in Clallam County in the rural areas outside Port Angeles and Sequim . My own story is a horrendous example of local government gone wrong. Fortunately, I am better equipped than most to deal with this form of government malfeasance, as I was a local government land use planner and manager for 36 years who managed the counter staff for a progressive jurisdiction along the I-5 corridor for 27 years. I retired from land use planning in February of 2014 to take on the role of the President of StarCrisp Farms LLC, to manage my hobby farm as a retirement activity. I am still a member of the American Planning Association (APA) and its professional arm, the American Institute of Certified Planners, AICP. I am well versed in cutting edge land use trends, strategies of the Growth management Act, and know what land use planning is suppose to be about. I am also familiar with what progressive jurisdictions, like the one I worked for, try to do to encourage economic development and maintain a thriving development community, and how to partner with the development and environmental communities to help build a strong vibrant community. I also recognize efforts to undermine good planning for political interests, and strategies that have been designed to stop certain kinds of development in specific areas. Unfortunately, Clallam County only succeeds at the latter.
In my 36 years of experience as a local government land use planner, I recognize Clallam County as an organization with a regulatory culture that does not see itself as a helper or enabler of projects and development, but only as a regulator proficient at heaping regulatory barriers in the way of activities like cannabis grow operations. My story is an example of how this works.
In late 2013 I approached the County permit staff with the prospect of establishing a marijuana grow on a 5 acre piece of property my wife and I had just purchased for vacationing. Since it was zoned Rural Residential 5, with a 5 acre minimum size for development and permited agricultural uses as an out right permitted use, I was not surprised when I was initially told that I would be an outright permitted use. Further, I was told that if I kept my barns under 400 square feet, I would be exempt from building permits as an agricultural structure or a green house would be exempt. I was assured all was well and I could move forward with my plans for a marijuana farm in November and December of 2013.
Based upon this initial discussion, I began planning my dream hobby farm. I applied for licenses from the state, wrote the state required operational plan and paid my fees. The State approved the operation Plan after notifying the county which had an opportunity to respond but didn't. I later found out the county circulated the notice the state sent it, that had check boxes for review of various elements, permits, police, planning etc. At that time, all of the Department Heads and Senior staff in Clallam County that were responsible for review of such notices signed the sheet for approval of my use. But for some reason, the form reviewed and signed by several directors and senior staff never got returned to the state. With a good operational plan and no comments received from the county, the state issued my permits and I began to make investment decisions and began developing my property.
About 3 months into development and nearly $55,000 spent on improvements, a building inspector showed up to the site where my buildings were now mostly built, and told me I needed permits because of a new policy. According to the elected Community Development Director, a marijuana operation was no longer considered agricultural and required a Conditional Use Permit (A zoning permit), and by the way, the buildings were no longer exempt and would need to meet requirements intended for light industrial uses (Moderate hazard factory, F-1) because this was now being considered a light industrial use. The bottom line, the county was setting itself up to be in a position to deny my use for zoning reasons and to make my buildings, constructed as barns, unusable under a F-1 classification. What followed was two years of hell navigating my way through a process that was designed to kill projects like mine. But I persevered, I got a Conditional Use Permit, despite a landowner that owns a vacation rental and lives in Bainbridge Island organizing a fight against me and turning in a petition with nearly 1,000 names against my business, of which only 3 were within 1,000 feet of my property. The petition was a joke as was the testimony at the hearing from the opposition. With my land use experience I demonstrated why the use was a good use for the area and would not change the character of the area in any way. The Hearing Examiner agreed, who is charged to act as a judge, (It is not a popularity contest, decisions must be based upon fact). The hearing Examiner approved my permit.
This didn't stop the absentee neighboring land owner, who sued the county to over turn the permit and lost, who then filed an appeal and lost, and finally filed a final appeal and lost again. The lawsuit was a joke as well. It didn't argue any impacts as you might expect. That was because make believe impacts tend to crumble when confronted with fact, as was what happened in front of the Hearing Examiner. Instead, the suit argued silly imaginary intent of the County Land Use Plan and maintained the Plan prohibited any commercial development in the rural areas. Imagine that.... a rural area with no farms, or any natural resource uses that result in a profit. Imagine the woman arguing this, that is an absentee land owner who runs a commercial vacation rental next door on her property accommodating up to 24 people a night. Actually very funny, except that it cost us all money in attorneys that could have been better spent on property improvements.
While the law suit was won, that was not the end of issues to be overcome, as the county was still arguing that buildings needed to be F-1 because this was not an agricultural use and it needed to meet industrial standards. This allowed the county to ask for sprinkler systems, that can not be supported without a community water system, and costly handicap improvements (full handicap bathroom, parking and access ramps) that other agricultural uses are exempt from having to do. It also made no difference that the State Building Code Council and Association of State Building Officials, as well as the state Department of Agriculture, and Department of Labor and Industries have all stated marijuana farming is agricultural, and should be treated as any other agricultural activity. Clallam County is still playing political games saying its not agricultural and requiring F-1 buildings to make marijuana farming difficult if not impossible to establish in rural areas.
An attorney told me the fact that I had so much experience in land use, and had so much difficultly obtaining approvals, was a testimony to how dysfunctional the system is. I would agree. But the sad fact is, the process was intended to be that way, it was designed to make it all but impossible to receive approval in a rural area. The upshot of the process is, it was just political action designed to appease uninformed neighborhood groups. The neighborhood groups were responding to the call of the conservative Chicken Little, that the sky will fall and the neighborhoods in rural areas would be destroyed if pot farming is permitted in rural agricultural areas. The sad fact, that should be apparent and stated by government agencies, is that the impacts these neighborhood groups believe will occur, won't. None of the hype being spread by the opposition has any basis in reality, nor is it substantiated in the literature or actual experience. To the contraire, expectations of pot farmers have been demonstrated after several years where no land use issues across the state have materialized, no children have been kidnapped and held hostage for anyone's product. No marauding bands of criminals have attacked the homesteaders, no pollution of ground water has occurred, the rural areas where farms have developed are still rural, still very much livable, and now more vital, and economically and environmentally more sustainable.
Unfortunately, the foolishness spawned by vigilante neighborhood groups still continues. The Clallam County Planning Commission recently sent proposed legislation to the County Commissioners to adopt zoning amendments that would prohibit once and for all marijuana grows in rural areas. A really sad amendment to an otherwise reasonable plan and zoning code. It is hard to imagine the thought here unless you understand that three well organized neighborhood groups once picketed the county courthouse listening to and believing the Chicken Little hype surrounding the conservative strategies against I-502 implementation. These same neighborhood groups apparently influenced the Planning Commission to believe pot farms would ruin the rural character of rural areas and needed to be relegated to somewhere else. Close to the same arguments back when, when Lavender farms began to be the rage. The cry has gone out anew, no neighborhoods will ever be the same: "No Industrial pot in my residential neighborhood." signs litter the landscape, there just needs to be somewhere else found to put these unthinkable industrial activities inhabited by hippies, drug dealers and criminals.
And this is where the strategy falls apart. The somewhere else, "Not in My Backyard" (NIMBY's), ends up being in urban growth areas in industrial, commercial and mixed use high density zones accommodating mixed urbanized uses. So, the flawed argument goes something like this: Because of all the horrible impacts expected from pot farms (that have never been substantiated and don't really exist) the bad industrial activity that is not agricultural (despite the fact that the state of Washington Department of Agriculture and the Department of Labor and Industries consider cannabis farming agricultural) these activities need to be located somewhere where impacts will not happen to rural areas. The argument continues, that such steps are needed to protect the good people who bought 5 acre tracts for residential development (Known as sprawl that displaces agricultural activities that is specifically discouraged in the State Growth management Act (GMA) and which instead encourages the use of rural lands for a mix of land uses including residential and natural resource activities like farming). The strategy continues still with the argument that activity must be located in the UGAs where impacts can be absorbed in areas of planned higher density development (such as employment zones where people work, apartment complexes where high number of other citizens reside, and where businesses can absorb whatever impacts are expected). Basically a "I shouldn't be bothered by this blight, the working class that can't afford 5 acre tracts can deal with it". It gets down to the fact that pot farms are just to much to expect an elitist rural neighborhood group to accept that see the rural zoning as a sanitized utopia created just for them. One that by the way is discouraged by the GMA, and is not sustainable from an economic or environmental standpoint. But then when has that ever bothered the conservative culture?
I now have a "pot farm" that I like to think is an attractive addition to the neighborhood and a more economically and environmentally sustainable use of my property. I am currently building a house next to my process barn to accommodate family vacations with my eight grandchildren and weekend getaways with my wife. Pictures of my little barn and little residential structure are displayed below. Is this an evil thing that should have been relegated to urban growth areas, or is it as I maintain, a viable and appropriate rural/agricultural use? You be the judge. And please, let the County Commisioners know what you think in the next election. After all, Clallam County supported I-502 by a wide margin. Shouldn't supporting I-502 implementation be its priority?
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