The proposed development of a cannabis distribution and storage facility off Highway 3 and Marshall Ranch Road in Douglas City is back for another round of debate beginning with last week’s repeated refusal of the Trinity County Planning Commission to recommend approval of the rezone needed to make the project fly.
The applicant is Terrence Mines of Junction City who said he just wants “to provide jobs in the community, not that I want to be there anymore,” by operating a distribution facility serving commercial cannabis farmers in transporting their product to market.
A petition containing approximately 200 signatures from residents of that community was submitted in opposition to his plans and objecting to the proposed rezone of four parcels from Highway Commercial to Heavy Commercial that would allow for the intended use on one of the four.
The exact same project was heard by the Planning Commission a year ago when the same recommendation was made for the Board of Supervisors to reject the proposed rezone, largely because of community opposition. The commission did not consider the accompanying application for a conditional use permit on the project at that time, based on its recommended denial of the rezone.
The Board of Supervisors considered the project a month later, tabling the rezone and sending the whole thing back to the Planning Department for additional environmental analysis pertaining to soils, traffic and smell concerns expressed by the neighbors.
The project came back to the Planning Commission last Thursday night in Weaverville with a recommendation by county staff for approval based on additional analysis that did not reveal any significant environmental impacts that could not be mitigated.
County counsel noted that since the project was considered last year, Mines has sued the county over it. The litigation is still pending, but no stay has been ordered, and she advised commissioners they could recuse themselves if they felt the litigation might influence their decisions. None did.
Planning Director Kim Hunter emphasized that the commission needed to re-evaluate the proposed project in its entirety, including the conditional use permit application that was not considered the first time through.
The room was packed, primarily by opponents of the project. Many spoke and others submitted written comments in addition to the petition signatures that were submitted.
Mines, the applicant, spoke first, saying his project has been the subject of many false accusations and he’s been forced to spend more money to prove that the wells are good and the ground is safe.
“People want jobs and revitalization here. They want more than three restaurants in Weaverville. It’s a perfectly acceptable location there (in Douglas City) and there won’t be any smell. The product is already processed. It’s in a jar. It will be safe. The state forces me to do that and we will. It’s not going to be a huge business with where our ordinance has gone. It’s more about survival now,” he said.
Mines said he already has a cannabis manufacturing business “and it’s at my house. We use water and ice. It won’t be there, but we need a place to distribute and zoning doesn’t let us do it on our property. We’ll do this right.”
“Our community of Douglas City doesn’t want it there. It is not the right place and every neighbor is against this, north, south, east and west,” said Liam Gogan of Douglas City.
He argued there will be undisclosed traffic impacts likely to generate the need for an expensive turn lane on Highway 3, “and there are better places for this, like Hayfork where a big, reputable, environmentally sound company is coming with a proven, professional background in manufacturing and distribution that will be available a few miles away.”
Gogan said the community is not “anti-cannabis,” and in fact many who signed the petition grow some.
“It’s just that this is not the right spot for this facility and people don’t want it there,” he said.
Others argued that despite what the environmental impact analysis says, there is not sufficient water to serve the area; the septic capabilities are inadequate to serve the proposed facility with 10 full-time employees and 10 seasonal; there will be odor and crime; there’s a school bus stop across the street; and clients are bound to use Marshall Ranch Road and cut through their residential parcels to get to the Trinity River even though access to the distribution site is technically off Highway 3.
A few project supporters argued that odors can easily be addressed by use of carbon filters and suggested compromise by rezoning only the parcel needed for the distribution facility, not all four. One argued it’s the perfect location centrally located near the junction of Highway 3 and Highway 299 and is compatible with other uses already there including a wrecking yard and propane tank farm. Some said it would provide a badly needed service for the 300 licensed cultivators in the county, plus an estimated 5,000 unlicensed ones.
One commissioner, Diana Stewart of Hayfork, supported the project, saying the property “is the ideal location for a distribution facility, accessible from all areas of the county. Another besides one in Hayfork is essential. It doesn’t do any good if we license growers, but they have no way to move their crop. I can’t stress enough how much this is needed.”
Commissioner Mike McHugh argued the proposed rezone involves four out of only nine Highway Commercial parcels in the core area of Douglas City and would open them up to more impactful uses allowed under Heavy Commercial zoning.
“We’re about to embark on community plan updates, I hope, and we’re hearing from this one how they want to see this area developed. None of that has changed since we reached the conclusion last year that a rezone is not appropriate and this remains the wrong spot,” he said, adding he doesn’t support “pre-empting the wishes of the community.”
Commissioner Richard Hoard agreed that distribution services are needed for the cannabis community “and the site is a great physical location, but there are inherent issues that make it difficult to approve. Mines could potentially sell this for a Type 7 manufacturing use or some other. We must consider what could potentially take place if we rezone it. And the septic is completely inadequate.”
“It’s very difficult to support this when the community opposes it in such numbers, regardless of what benefits it may have countywide,” said Commissioner Graham Matthews, and Commissioner Dan Frasier said the other potential Heavy Commercial uses must be considered if the property is rezoned.
“Any other heavy commercial use could move into the core area of Douglas City and I don’t think we should open it up to that without support of the community. The community wants it to be Highway Commercial,” he said.
The commission’s vote was 4-1 (Stewart opposed) to recommend that the Board of Supervisors not approve the environmental negative declaration, finding that it does not adequately address traffic and water issues; not approve the rezone, finding that is not consistent with the Douglas City community plan as refreshed by new public input; and that the conditional use permit be denied because Highway Commercial is not an appropriate zone for distribution.
The recommendations will be submitted to the board for a final decision, tentatively set for the board’s Feb. 19 meeting.