On guard over greenhouse rules

Lamps aglow, buds are bursting in an indoor marijuana growing operation. The San Juan County Council, faced with a proliferation of greenhouses, will consider new limits on the agricultural “accessory use”.  - Contributed photo /
Lamps aglow, buds are bursting in an indoor marijuana growing operation. The San Juan County Council, faced with a proliferation of greenhouses, will consider new limits on the agricultural “accessory use”.
— image credit: Contributed photo /

Faced with a possible proliferation of industrial-sized marijuana grows, the San Juan County Council agreed to consider placing new limits on the construction, scope, size and operation of greenhouses, an accessory use for agricultural production that can be constructed, in many instances, without a permit.

In a divided decision, a 2-1 vote, the County Council instructed its staff July 15 to put the questions of siting, permitting, operation and impacts of greenhouses before the planning commission as first in a series of steps which could lead to a series of restrictions. Council Chairman Rick Hughes, adamantly opposed to the earlier suggestion of a six-month moratorium, cautioned that restrictions targeted to appease concerns over marijuana could undermine cultivation of other, less controversial crops.

“If it involves a moratorium I don’t support it at all,” Hughes said of regulatory tools the council could wield. “I think we need to be really careful about the road we’re going down.”

Hughes noted San Juan County voters overwhelming supported I-502 (68 percent), the statewide initiative legalizing the cultivation and sale, and recreational use of marijuana by adults, and that the Right to Farm Act leaves little legal wiggle room to thwart production or the harvest of any thing other than contraband crops.

His colleagues were unswayed. Councilman Jamie Stephens said definitions of “permanent” or “temporary” in the building code, the yardstick of whether a building permit is required for a greenhouse, as well as other impacts, such as illumination, could be clarified to better protect farmland from long-term impacts.

“The code is too vague,” Stephens said.

Meanwhile, a total of 18 “marijuana producer” license applications from San Juan County are on file with the state Liquor Control Board, only one of which, belonging to Aqua Organics, has so far been approved. The liquor control board has 7,000 applications statewide to review for criminal, financial and residency requirements, and is playing catchup, said Liquor Control Board spokesman Brian Smith.

Regardless of the backlog, Smith noted that it remains illegal in Washington state to grow, cultivate or process without a state-issued license.

Of the 18 applications, five are from Orcas Island and the rest, 13, are linked to San Juan Island addresses (Lopez Island has none). Five of San Juan’s 13 are for the largest production category, Tier 3, which allows up 30,000 square feet of cultivation area, or roughly the size of a football field.

At the request of the council, the San Juan County Agricultural Resources Committee weighed in July 8 with a review of its own about marijuana, cultivation of local crops and greenhouses. The Committee recommends that a greenhouse of 10,000 square feet or more in size should be subject to conditional-use permit and review of possible negative impacts.

Under the current code, Community Development and Planning Department Deputy Building Official John Geniuch said whether a greenhouse requires a permit depends in large part on materials used in its construction and whether it would be a permanent structure or temporary in nature. He said that he is in process of preparing for a review of that part of the code by the planning commission.


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