Nome planners look at zoning for marijuana cultivation
The decriminalization of marijuana use, production and sales likely has put a new task on the Nome Planning Commission’s work table. Several residents on the west side of town have asked the planners to take a look at existing zoning laws put into effect in 2008 and define “marijuana cultivation” and where the activity fits into Nome’s land use regulations.
At their May 10 regular meeting, commissioners had before them a letter from Marcia Sloan pointing out that state licensing procedure called for detailed information from applicants on growing medium, carbon dioxide management, fertilizer, gases and chemical processes, waste disposal, irrigation and wastewater systems, and odor control. However, “there are no standards set in place as to what is allowable in a community,” she noted. “It seems that these questions are left to local boards and commissions to deal with.”
Marijuana business license applicants had been considering a rental across the street from Sloan’s home in a Residential Zone as a commercial marijuana site.
The commission should have an interpretation of the zoning law in place as regards the pot business, Larry Pederson, commission chairman, said. “We’ve had comments from citizens tonight asking us to review it,” Pederson said. “We have legal authority and should be prepared. It would be good to review the zoning law; if it is covered, we can drop it,” he said. That would put him in a bind, Greg Smith, building inspector, said. “It will fall in my lap. I am involved in trying to get into that business, so I am in conflict,” Smith, who was considering use of the house across from Sloan for that business, said.
In general, planning commissioners, an advisory group, felt they should not go ahead with the zoning and pot business issue until the Nome Common Council gave them the direction. The Zoning Code already applied, Commissioner Ken Hughes said, and since the council hasn’t asked us to take up marijuana and regulations, “we don’t do it until we are tasked with it.”
Commissioner John Odden advised that the commission check with the city’s corporate attorney to ascertain the commission’s role in addressing the marijuana-zoning issue. “It’s brand new; we shouldn’t make waves until we know something. The only thing unclear is the public perception of zoning,” Hughes said.
Eileen Bechtol, Nome’s contract city planner was not ready to touch the issue with a 10-foot pole.
“We need to take the matter to the council to see if we are worthy,” Bechtol said, still smarting after the council gave the vacant structure registry ordinance proposed by the planners a rough going over with blunt comments at the May 9 council meeting.
“The decorum and the way I was treated were very rude,” Bechtol said. “We worked two years on this. I was told going out [of the meeting], ‘Don’t get any more ideas.’ It was really upsetting,” she said. Bechtol noted that the vacant and dilapidated property issue had been considered in meeting after meeting, and in two planning open houses, the public put abandoned structures on top of the improvements needed pile.
Indeed, the commission often has work sessions before regular meetings, and reconvenes the work sessions after the regular meeting to whale away some more on the work session issue. The vacant structure measure requires registration with the city to provide a contact in case the city’s administration has to have the structure monitored or intervene in emergency, as well as provide for rudimentary upkeep and maintenance of the structure, backed up with fines for noncompliance.
The council first considered tabling the ordinance pending more information including a reading of the International Building Code maintenance section that the new law included by reference only, but then adopted the ordinance with amendments dropping the more stringent IBC maintenance requirement and adding back an abatement policy.
Planners had thought the registration policy tasking owners with requirements for maintenance would replace the existing abatement policy that had succeeded in removing very few eyesores.
“They gutted it,” Bechtol said at the planning meeting May 10. “I felt a lot of our work was for naught, I felt attacked.”
Back to marijuana— the 2008 zoning law addresses “manufacturing” in two zones, but does not have reference to agricultural activity. Both Residential and General Use zones allow “incidental, small-scale manufacturing, processing and storage of goods for wholesale or retail sales on the premises.” The Industrial zone permits “manufacturing, processing, assembling, wholesale or storage.”
Planners suggested a work session on marijuana operations with tools on the table—the city’s marijuana ordinance, state marijuana regulations, a zoning map of Nome, regulations from other communities—and see what the group could get done.
City officials may pass the regulation role around, but likely will have to address where in town pot businesses may establish, pushed by residents who do not want them in the neighborhood.
“Because much of Nome’s residential housing is built close together, I think it is important for the Planning Commission to consider that if cultivation is allowed in a residential or general use area, that there be specific distances that a cultivation facility be from a residential home,” Sloan’s letter said, and commented that in communities allowing cultivation in residential areas, the range is 50 ft. to 100 ft.
On a brighter side of the agenda, the commission decided it would be a good idea to add the duties of Historic Preservation to their duties. The first tasks of the HPC could be to develop a local historic preservation plan; review and recommend local projects, review nominations to the National Register of Historic Places for properties within its jurisdiction.
The idea is already in the Comprehensive Plan, Commissioner Sara Lizak said.
“We would be doing basically what we should be doing,” she said, also making the point during the discussion that without such a designation, the city wouldn’t qualify for grants, “cheating the city out of 100s of thousands of grant money.”
The council would have to adopt an ordinance setting up the historical function and also task the commission with related duties. The idea would need a public hearing, Bechtol stressed.
In other business, Bechtol put the 2016 Hazard Mitigation Plan update on the commission’s plate, providing members with reading material for discussion.