Yamhill commissioners OK hemp, pot facility ‘with reluctance’

Special Reports

Opponents disappointed, not surprised, will likely appeal again

Land in Yamhill County where a hemp and marijuana processing facility is set to be built, Dec. 2, 2019. (Hannah Ray Lambert)

YAMHILL COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — The Yamhill County Board of Commissioners dealt another blow to neighbors trying to keep a hemp and marijuana operation out of the Chehalem Mountains area. Commissioners unanimously voted to uphold the planning commission’s earlier approval of the facility’s site design review.

Neighbors trickled out of the Yamhill County Courthouse after Thursday morning’s decision, dejected, but not surprised.

“This was pretty much expected,” neighbor Brian Carlson said.

A large and vocal group of residents has been opposing the planned operations on a 22.7 acre property located on Jaquith Road, a few miles north of Newberg. In a site design review submitted last year, 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. The property is zoned for farm use, and the county planning director has pointed out that processing crops is allowed in farm zones.

Laura Cochran, the property’s nearest neighbor, filed a request for a hearing last fall, claiming that allowing the facility to proceed would irreparably harm her disabled adult son, who she said will not be able to “tolerate the marijuana stench or hemp dust.” Cochran has also maintained that allowing the facility to go in next door would effectively “take” her property, including the custom-built home designed to “accommodate (her son’s) profound disabilities for the rest of his natural life.”

Concerns about livability, water usage, odors, traffic, proximity to homes, possible chemical usage, a potential increase in crime, the continued federal illegality of marijuana and more have all been entered into the record by dozens of neighbors, most recently at a public hearing on January 9 before the board of commissioners. The hearing lasted several hours.

“I would not want to have a marijuana processing plant near me, but you know the voters have spoken.”

Mary Starrett, Vice-Chair Yamhill County Board of Commissioners

“So many of those concerns are valid,” chair Casey Kulla said after he and his colleagues voted unanimously to uphold the planning commission’s earlier approval of the site design review.

The other commissioners also expressed sympathy for those living near the planned processing facility, with Commissioner Richard Olson going so far as to say, “I don’t like this application. I don’t like this use.”

Commissioner Mary Starrett said she tried to find any reason to deny the application, but came up short, and upheld the planning commission’s approval “with reluctance.”

Commissioner Mary Starret said she couldn’t find any grounds to deny the use of the land for a hemp and marijuana processing facility on Jan. 16, 2020 (Hannah Ray Lambert)

“This is an allowed farm processing use, and so it really is not a referendum on marijuana, it’s pretty much is this an acceptable on the land that it’s zoned for,” Starrett said. “I would not want to have a marijuana processing plant near me, but you know the voters have spoken, and the legislature was clear that this is an allowed use, so that’s why I was conflicted.”

The county placed 19 conditions of approval on the site design review, primarily concerning the owner’s need to acquire all necessary permits and show proof of permits to the county. The owners must also dispose of any industrial hemp or marijuana waste properly (no burning), cannot use “outdoor amplified music or sound” on the premises, and must build a wall up to the roof line to enclose HVAC units.

The next step for opponents is to appeal to the Land Use Board of Appeals.

Cochran declined to comment on Thursday’s decision. The property owner sent a statement to KOIN 6 News Thursday afternoon through his attorney:

“We plan to move forward with our production operation, which has always been allowed and is not subject to any land use review, and we plan to wait the necessary time required to begin the processing operation. Over time, we hope that we can begin to have constructive interactions with our neighbors, and we look forward to contributing positively to the community at large.”

The planned processing facility is a few miles north of Newberg (KOIN)

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