YAMHILL COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — Hours of passionate testimony from people opposed to a proposed hemp and marijuana facility near Newberg ended with Yamhill County commissioners delaying their decision for a week.
The controversy surrounds a 22.7-acre property on Jaquith Road where the owners want to grow 5-10 acres of hemp, up to 10,000 square feet of marijuana indoors, and process both in separate buildings. Last year, they applied for a site design review on the processing portion of the facility, which the planning commission approved. That decision was then appealed to the Board of Commissioners.
At 10 a.m. Thursday it was standing room only inside the hearing room at the Yamhill County Courthouse, with some people spilling into the hallway. “This is one way to get all the neighbors together,” one man remarked before the meeting started.
The primary appellant, Laura Cochran, lives next door to the property. She told KOIN 6 News she has a severely disabled adult son who will be irreparably harmed by the smells and noises from the facility. Her testimony was tearful at times, and toward the end she declared, “I will protect my son.” Many people in the room applauded as she returned to her seat.
After lawyers and the appellants gave their statements, more than a dozen people spoke in opposition. Talking points included everything from the federal illegality of recreational marijuana, noise, traffic safety concerns, odor, and unpermitted buildings constructed by prior owners.
One neighbor characterized the present owner’s efforts to “profit” from the unpermitted buildings as “a clear screw you to Yamhill County and the people on the hill” and told the commissioners that they should be forced to “tear down and start again.”
A testy exchange kicked off the hearing when Jeffrey Kleinman, one appellant’s attorney, attempted to object to the chair of the Board of Commissioner’s refusal to recuse himself. Commissioner Casey Kulla produces marijuana, which some neighbors view as a conflict of interest. Kulla told Kleinman to “have a seat” multiple times before listening to the attorney’s argument.
“I’m a rural resident, just like most of the people in this room, as well as being a farmer and believe it or not, I can see both sides,” Kulla said after the objection. “And you will have to trust me on that.”
The legal battle began when the property’s closest resident, Cochran, filed a request for a hearing regarding WAG Holdings, LLC’s application for a site design review.
Neighbors then leveled a remarkable amount of opposition against the business. More than 1,000 pages of evidence and testimony were entered into the record ahead of the Yamhill County Planning Commission’s hearing in December. The commission approved the site design review, and Cochran appealed. Another neighbor, Jill Anderson, filed a second appeal.
After that, opponents organized further, setting up a Facebook group, hosting a meeting and sending emails to go over talking points, and even creating a GoFundMe for legal expenses that has raised more than $4,000.