On Monday, the King County Council voted 5-3 to approve legislation refining existing county land-use regulations concerning the growth, processing and retail sale of marijuana.
The ordinance was passed with support from council members Reagan Dunn, Kathy Lambert, Pete von Reichbauer, Claudia Balducci and Dave Upthegrove. Those voting in opposition were council members Joe McDermott, Rod Dembowski and Larry Gossett. County council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles was excused.
As previously reported, the vote caused much concern among Redmond Ridge residents as there was an amendment that could potentially bring marijuana growing and processing plants to urban reserves.
SOME BREATHING ROOM
Lambert — whose District 3 includes Redmond Ridge — said for now, nothing will be done in urban reserves such as Redmond Ridge as the county will conduct a study to see whether it would be appropriate to put such facilities in the community. The results from the study are scheduled to be released April 28, 2017.
For Julie Theurer, who has lived on Redmond Ridge for 11 years, she is glad the county is doing the study and hopes they make a responsible zoning decision.
“I hope they do a very thorough study,” she said.
Theurer was among those who addressed
council at Monday’s meeting, which Lambert said had about 300 people in attendance and led the county to utilize two overflow rooms to accommodate everyone.
Jen Boon, another resident on Redmond Ridge, found the request for the study disturbing because the community would be disproportionately impacted if urban reserve zones permitted marijuana businesses.
Endre Amiras added that he and other residents are happy for this breather but said they just won a battle, and not the war.
“We hope that (the county) now understands the will of the residents and will keep this in mind when planning to revisit, in the future, the adequacy of placing industrial scale marijuana processing and growing in the middle of a densely populated residential area,” he said.
According to a county press release, the ordinance also included measures to remove all parcels less than 10 acres and designated as rural area (RA) zones from any type of marijuana-related use. In addition, the ordinance included measures to approve studies on potential retail and processing in specific locations and require the county executive to identify 10 locations suitable for retail in neighborhood business (NB) zoned areas across unincorporated King County.
The release continues, stating that the county is presently under a four-month moratorium on the acceptance of applications for or the establishment of locations of marijuana producers, processors and retailers in unincorporated areas.
The approved ordinance will end the moratorium and goes into effect 10 days after receiving a signature from King County Executive Dow Constantine.
Council’s vote came after a meeting that lasted about five and a half hours that Lambert described as a mass of confusion. She said throughout the meeting, a number of amendments were proposed — including some that no one in the room could explain, raising the question of why they were voting on something no one seemed to understand.
The process also highlighted for Lambert how some members of the council do not understand what it is like to represent and live in an unincorporated area.
For example, she proposed requiring meetings for when there is a land-use permitting process underway that involves marijuana-related uses. That way, Lambert said, people have an opportunity to talk things out and have a two-way conversation. The amendment did not pass.
Lambert said in most cases if people are concerned or against a land-use action, they would be able to turn to their city government to address it. But in unincorporated areas, residents wouldn’t have that option and without any sort of meeting, they would not have any way of expressing themselves.
“We are these people’s local government,” Lambert said.
Boon added that homeowners in unincorporated areas have shown up at meetings repeatedly to protest these zoning decisions, telling the council that voter support for legalized marijuana does not mean voter support for improper zoning.
“Council should listen to unincorporated residents as their first layer of local government,” she said.
With the ordinance’s restrictions on land parcels in RA zones that are less than 10 acres, Lambert said this saved about 121, 000 acres of land throughout the county.
Council member Dembowski, who voted against the ordinance, saw things differently.
“I opposed today’s proposal to remove hundreds of thousands of acres of land and to impose new burdens on this budding industry because I believe a lot more work is necessary to fully understand the impacts of the various proposals to change the rules related to marijuana,” he said in a prepared statement. “I believe that we need more time and a lot more work to get the zoning rules right in order to ensure that voter-approved I-502 succeeds, that burdens and benefits are equitably shared, in a way that is compatible with surrounding uses, just like any other legal industry.”
In a joint statement released following Monday’s vote, council members McDermott and Gossett — the remaining two “no” votes — said the legislation would further concentrate retail marijuana stores in low-income and working-class neighborhoods and, more often than not, minority neighborhoods.
“Reducing the land area where marijuana can be grown and processed coupled with no guaranteed expansion of retail stores will also result in limited access across our county,” their statement reads. “This is particularly concerning for our residents who use medical marijuana to treat numerous ailments like seizures, arthritis and Crohn’s Disease.”
McDermott and Gossett’s statement continues, stating that the county must ensure adequate access to recreational and medical marijuana and address any unintended consequences this legislation may create.
While the opposing council members have concerns about further limiting where marijuana businesses can open, Lambert said the University of Washington recently released study results for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) that states that current supply is sufficient to meet the demands in Washington.
Boon added that Redmond Ridge residents are confused why the county continues to “aggressively pursue places to put more and more marijuana growth and processing industries when (the WSLCB) says there is already enough growing canopy permitted to supply Washington state’s needs of recreational and medical marijuana use.”
Another concern Redmond Ridge residents have is the fact that a proposed location for a marijuana business would be near the site of a new Lake Washington School District (LWSD) middle school, which was greenlighted thanks to the bond that passed in April.
Kathryn Reith, communications director for the district, said the school site is less than the required 1,000 feet from the potential pot facility.
“If a marijuana facility is permitted before a fully vested permit for the middle school is obtained, then that facility would be allowed to remain after the school is built, even though the law prohibits such facilities within 1,000 feet of elementary and secondary schools,” she said.
Reith said the county was involved in identifying the site for the middle school and was very aware of the district’s need for a middle school site.
Boon is concerned that either the much-needed school will not be built or it will be the only school in the state that does not have the full buffer protection promised by the law.
“That (the council) might prioritize industrialized, large-scale marijuana warehouses over our desperately needed schools is unjustifiable,” she said.