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Weed grow and sell site application faces pushback from commision

A proposed marijuana retail and grow site on A Street near Oak Street met scrutiny from the Planning Commission and criticism from residents who testified Tuesday at the commission's regular meeting.

The land use application needs a conditional use permit and a site design review to turn the Oak Street Tank & Steel Building in the historic Railroad District into the city’s first combined retail sales and indoor grow location. No decision was made Tuesday. The commission requested additional information from the applicant and plans to continue the discussion at a meeting on Jan. 23.

On Tuesday, staff reported several concerns, including added traffic, said Maria Harris, the city’s planning manager. She also brought up a conflict between state regulations saying windows of the grow area must be blacked out to keep any glar from escaping and municipal code which requires visibility into the business from windows on A Street.

The applicant’s agent, CSA Planning, said the concerns will be addressed before the next meeting in January.

Most of the commissioners said they weren’t satisfied with the application as presented. Several questioned the logistics of the indoor grow production and its impact, including water and energy use and what will be discharged into the sewer system, and called for more information and numbers to be presented by the applicant.

“I don’t see anywhere an audit that talks about water usage, electricity usage,” Commissioner Michael Dawkins said. “Seems to me the city has a policy that is going toward less electric use and water use in this town — why don’t we have a report here that says what that is going to be?”

Other commissioners also asked about what will be needed regarding utility use and a control plan for air pollution — in this case, of the smell of mature marijuana plants near harvest time, known for its skunk-like aroma.

“I want information on the basic things like the sewage, water, electricity — and I’m talking real volume,” Commissioner Troy Brown Jr. said. “What I need is not, ‘these things will be taken care of,’ to make a good decision. I need real volume numbers and the system you are putting in.”

Staff raised no red flags regarding the city’s capacity to provide water and electricity for the indoor grow, which would use artificial lights and potable water. Harris explained that is because the permit criteria only concerns “adequacy” and noted that the applicant was “very brief” on those exact numbers.

“Whether there’s capacity is one thing, whether it’s in line with the city’s policy is another thing,” Dawkins said. “This is the question whether or not we can start making decisions based on that or is that just too vague for our part.”

Eight residents and landlords in the neighborhood of the building stated their opposition to the proposed business, raising concerns about odor, air quality and what they said would be a societal negative impact from the business. One of them said it would be hypocritical for the city to approve the proposal.

“How could the city justify approving a cooperation in the middle of town that uses clean, drinkable city water, while the same city, for at least past three years, has run an ad campaign to encourage the city’s water conservation?” asked Will Volpert, owner of a business across the street from the A Street building. “There’s an irony in making this scarce resource available for marijuana cultivation in the middle of the town,” he added.

Dawkins called for the numbers to be run through Conservation Commission.

“I think there should be not only the request to know exactly how much will be used and can be verified … but it should also be run by Conservation Commission to see whether that’s aligned with city policy,” Dawkins said. “We are inviting something in … that goes contrary to the city’s policy.”

The applicant and CSA Planning provided a three-page handout at the meeting, addressing some public comments and concerns raised from staff.

Drew Borresen, who is said to be the operating manager for the applicant, detailed an odor-control plan that “will mirror plan requirements that apply in Colorado, that nation’s most mature recreational cannabis industry.” The plan is to keep doors and windows closed, have “a single point of ingress and egress,” and have an exhaust and filtration system.

According to written testimony submitted by Borresen, the proposal came from a Talent-based cannabis company called The Factory, LLC. The company is known for its canned cannabis, where marijuana is sealed in dipping tobacco-like cans.

Business registry records show that the company, established in 2014, also owns a cannabis distribution company called Sovereign Distribution at the same address.

The main stakeholders are Lorri Olsen, Luke Olsen, Kendall Jorgensen and Lachlan Lacana. Luke and Jorgensen were employees of an Idaho-based packaging company called N2, where Jorgensen got the idea of nitrogen-sealed can, as a Willamette Week reporter in 2015.

The commission unanimously agreed to extend the discussion to Jan. 23 to allow time for staff and the applicant to gather more information.

— Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.