Enumclaw residents have been asking the King County Council for months to restrict marijuana production in rural residential areas after they learned of several production operations moving close by.
But when the King County Council changed its marijuana zoning requirements last week, Enumclaw seemed to have been left out.
The discussion started last April, when dozens of city and unincorporated King County residents attended a town hall on public safety and the county’s Comprehensive Plan. Residents addressed the council about the issues they saw with marijuana businesses, specifically marijuana production operations, opening up in or near their rural neighborhoods.
In response to these concerns, the council enacted a four-month moratorium on marijuana businesses, preventing the county from licensing new marijuana businesses and businesses that have a license, but aren’t in operation, from opening.
The council went further on July 25, passing an ordinance in a 5-3 vote to prohibit the production and processing of marijuana on parcels of land less than 10 acres in rural residential zones.
Ordinance 2016-0254 was supported by Council members Reagan Dunn, Kathy Lambert, Pete von Reichbauer, Claudia Balducci and Dave Upthegrove.
Dunn explained that even though he was originally going to vote against the ordinance because it was less restrictive than he wanted, he changed his mind because he believes the moratorium on marijuana would have expired without the council doing anything about the issues brought to the council if the ordinance did not pass.
“This is not perfect legislation. If I had my way, there would be no marijuana production or processing in the agricultural districts,” he said. “I wouldn’t have it in the RA zonings at all… but I’m going to support it holding my nose because I think we move the ball forward, even if it’s just a little bit.”
Upthegrove agreed with Dunn, saying that modest restrictions on production and processing in RA zones was appropriate while continuing to provide reasonable access to both recreational and medical marijuana.
Council members Joe McDermott, Rod Dembowski, and Larry Gossett voted against the ordinance.
Dembowski said he was unable to support the ordinance because of some of his basic principles.
“From a zoning perspective, in order to make I-502 work, we need to support the retailing, processing and production of this item,” he said. “We are taking out 140,000 or so net acres… without a study, without really an in-depth review, raises too many questions in my mind about whether we are harming the overall policy goal of supporting the implementation of I-502.”
Dembowski also said that while he no longer has unincorporated land left in his district, his cities do allow marijuana production, processing and retailing.
“If we don’t share the zoning around the county, there is more pressure on my constituents,” he said.
Council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles was excused.
The deadline for Executive Dow Constantine to sign the ordinance is Friday, Aug. 5. The ordinance takes 10 days to go into effect.
Prior to this ordinance, 200,000 acres were available for marijuana producers and processors to operate on in rural zones in King County.
Additionally, the minimum parcel size requirement for marijuana producers and processors was 4.5 acres, King County Product Line Manager Ty Peterson said.
Now, producers and processors can only open and operate in RA-10 and RA-20 zones (RA standing for rural area and the number denoting how many dwelling units per acres are allowed) on 10 acre parcels or larger, said Peterson.
That’s not a hard and fast rule, Peterson continued, and these businesses could open and operate on a parcel less than 10 acres if the whole proposal averages out to 10 acres.
“But in general, the minimum lot size is 10 acres,” he said.
According to councilman Dunn, this new stipulation prohibits marijuana producers and processors from operating on 141,598 acres out of the previous 200,000 available in rural residential zones – a 70 percent reduction in available land.
Marijuana producers and processors that were already vested in the system will be grandfathered into the new ordinance, Peterson said, even if they’re licensed to operate on a 4.5 acre parcel in a residential area.
But despite all the land now off-limits to marijuana producers, Barry Quam and the Concerned Enumclaw Plateau Residents group remain frustrated because they don’t live in a rural zone – they live in an agricultural zone, which has less restrictions on marijuana.
There are pockets of rural zones north of Enumclaw that are now off-limits to marijuana producers, but the vast majority of unincorporated land surrounding the city is classified by the county as A-35, also known as agricultural land that only allows one dwelling unit per 35 acres.
That gives people the impression that people are spread out, Quam said in a recent interview.
But that’s not the case, he continued, pointing out his own neighborhood on 208th Avenue as an example.
The street is parceled out in two- to five-acre pieces with enough homes to resemble a RA-5 zone rather than a A-35 zone, and many other neighborhoods in the area find themselves in the same position, Quam said.
Quam helped organize the Concerned Enumclaw Plateau Residents group when he learned of a marijuana production operations filed for a business application to operate in his neighborhood in December 2015.
He was hoping the King County Council would look at his neighborhood’s situation and update its zoning classification in order to make it more difficult, if not impossible, for a marijuana producer to start growing there.
“We’ve made it very clear… that we’re not out to change the law,” Quam said. “We just want grows out of our residential areas.”
But now that there are more marijuana restrictions in rural zones, Quam feels the King County Council has made Enumclaw, and other agricultural zones in the county, the dumping grounds for marijuana producers and processors.
“We feel the King County Council let us down,” he said. “We feel like we’re lost.”
The new acreage minimum in rural zones was not the only change to how the county manages marijuana.
One of those changes was how much land can be used to produce and process marijuana.
According to Peterson, marijuana producers in agricultural zones could have up to 10,000 square feet of marijuana production and processing prior to the ordinance, if the business had an approved conditional use permit.
Now, a conditional use permit will only allow 5,000 square feet of production and processing of marijuana on parcels of land more than 4.5 acres but less than 10 acres, Peterson said.
If the parcel is more than 10 acres, producers and processors can apply for a conditional use permit to use 10,000 square feet for their operations.
There are also changes to the setback requirements for larger producers and processors.
According to Peterson, there is now an additional setback of 150 feet from any existing single family home if the marijuana operation is larger than 2,000 square feet.
Operations that are less than 2,000 square feet still only need to adhere to the 50 foot setback from the road and 30 foot setback from other property lines.
The ordinance also directs the executive’s office to start a study that would identify 10 areas in Neighborhood Business zones – two for each council district – that could be potentially opened to marijuana retail businesses.
The study is to be finished by the end of the calendar year.