YAMHILL COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — People living in Newberg and the Chehalem Mountains area are pushing back against a proposed marijuana and hemp processing facility in remarkable numbers. The weeks-long conflict between residents, the business and the county will reach a head Thursday evening, when the Planning Commission is set to decide on how the project can proceed.
“The fact that people are coming forward I think is really indicative of how important this issue is,” neighbor Jill Anderson said.
There’s no shortage of reasons Anderson and other neighbors object. Concerns about livability water usage, odors, traffic, proximity to homes, possible chemical usage, a potential increase in crime and more have all been entered into the record.
The 22.7 acre property is located on Jaquith Road, a short distance from the intersection of Mountain Top Road and Highway 2019.
In late August, OreTex Farms, LLC submitted a land use application, expressing the company’s wish to process hemp and recreational marijuana. OreTex is one of three limited liability corporations associated with the property (the others are JCB Farms, LLC and WAG Holdings, LLC). A site design review request was also submitted, in which the applicants stated their plan to grow 5-10 acres of hemp on the property, grow up to 10,000 square feet of marijuana indoors, and process both in separate buildings.
This was all going on before the property officially sold. WAG Holdings, LLC bought the property for almost $2 million in a deed dated September 30.
In mid-September, the county sent notice of the application to people living in the direct vicinity of the property. Then, Laura Cochran, who lives right next to the property, filed a request and paid $250 for a hearing.
Cochran tells KOIN 6 she has a severely disabled adult son living with her who, she said has been harmed by a prior “facility’s non-stop noises, odors, and constant overstimulation…” She specifically referred to the property as a “drug house.” KOIN 6 checked with the sheriff’s office who told us they were “not immediately aware” of any incidents at the property.
“Yamhill County is shoehorning this factory right in the midst of these smaller steep parcels that were allowed to be built on, and now allowing this industrial complex right outside their bedroom windows,” she wrote in an email to KOIN 6, adding, “Planners have turned the planning commission into Death Panels who now get to decide if Yamhill County’s most vulnerable citizens get to live in their homes, or die in their homes.”
Cochran was the one who brought the issue to Anderson’s attention.
“We had no idea what was going on until Laura came to our door,” she said. “We received the notice and we didn’t really pay a lot of attention to it and then Laura came and knocked on the door one night and she and I struck up a conversation and all of a sudden I realized this really is important.”
Around the same time another neighbor, Erich Brandstetter, started going door-to-door, handing out copies of a letter of objection that neighbors could sign and deliver to the county.
“Within the neighborhood I have not encountered one person that was supportive of it,” Brandstetter said.
Many of those opposed showed up at the hearing on Nov. 7, while more continued sending the county letters against the proposed facility.
County planning officials said the sheer volume of the response has been highly unusual, with more than a thousand pages of testimony and evidence submitted into the record.
One of the biggest concerns cited by Brandstetter and other neighbors is groundwater. He said the property is in a limited groundwater area, and that wells could run dry if the applicants are watering fields of hemp. Brandstetter said he’s not biased against the crop and that, if the applicants were planting corn, they would have similar problems.
“That’s why people don’t grow corn up here,” he said. “People grow Christmas trees or lumber. They don’t grow crops that require irrigation because it is so limited.”
However, Yamhill County Planning Director Ken Friday emphasized that the grow operations are not what is under review. “The grow operations are already permitted in the Exclusive Farm use zone,” Friday wrote in an email.
Cochran’s objections to the development detailed in her statement to KOIN refer to other concerns with the property, specifically noise and traffic, which are characteristic of most farm operations, regardless of crop type.
The county is only reviewing the processing facility. But according to Friday, even that cannot be denied outright.
“Most folks don’t seem to understand that we can place conditions on the design of the facility, but not in such a way to deny the use,” Friday wrote.
Cochran and other neighbors also argued the previous owner performed unpermitted work on the buildings. Friday said he believes that is accurate, but his office is “focused on compliance rather than penalties.”
In the final written argument, received by the county on Monday, the applicants’ attorney stated the “application is being opposed for one reason: the opponents do not like cannabis.”
The neighbors who spoke to KOIN 6 deny that characterization.
Brandstetter said some neighbors are concerned about which chemicals will be used to process the hemp and marijuana. Anderson pointed to one instance where an explosion damaged a hemp processing facility in Kentucky.
“It’s not an anti-cannabis fight,” Anderson said. “It’s more of an inappropriate placement of what they’re proposing.”
The planning commission is scheduled to deliberate Thursday, and will likely make a decision at that time. That decision can then be appealed to the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners within 15 days.
“I’m guessing, regardless of who wins, the other side will appeal,” Anderson said.
Cochran, meanwhile, hopes her appeal will spur changes at the county and state level, establishing setbacks up to 2,000 feet for marijuana and hemp businesses from any elderly people, minor children, disabled people, or other vulnerable citizens.
KOIN 6 reached out to the applicants and their attorney and has not received comment as of Wednesday evening.