DAYTON – Columbia County planning commissioners have received plenty of feedback – mostly negative – in response to the conditional use permit recently filed by Kathy Sali, to open a marijuana store just outside Dayton.
A public hearing is planned, though date is yet to be set, to help determine the conditions that will be imposed on the shop. It is to be located at 36711 U.S. Highway 12, just west of the city limits.
While many residents would like to see the store banned, Planning Director Kim Lyonnais said that’s not an option.
In September 2015, Columbia County commissioners voted 2-1 not to ban recreational marijuana businesses in the county, and allowed retail cannabis stores in county commercial zones. The state issues permits based on population, and Columbia County is allotted one retail permit.
The commissioners also voted to require marijuana establishments to obtain a conditional use permit to operate. The CUP process allows residents to have input prior to any business being established, as well as allowing the county to put specific conditions on the operations of the business in order to minimize negative impact to surrounding neighbors. It also allows officials to shut down the business if conditions are not being met.
“We really hope people understand that we need validity to conditions that protect and help not only people and children, but the surrounding businesses. It’s beyond whether we allow it or not. The commissioners have already said that we allow it,” Lyonnais said.
The conditions, which must be “reasonable,” will ultimately be approved by a hearings examiner, under contract with the county. Lyonnais said that when the commissioners voted to allow marijuana in the county they decided to leave the decision with an examiner, rather than expose staff to that critical decision, knowing it would be hotly debated.
“There is no choice to do this administratively, in house. The examiner, who is usually a well-versed land-use attorney will look at the relevance of the debates and what has been previously allowed or not allowed,” Lyonnais said.
When asked if the examiner could refuse the permit altogether, Lyonnais said, “They had better be able to defend that in court. If the applicant has met all the conditions for health, safety, welfare, lighting, etc., we can’t arbitrarily deny a permit.”
The planning commission will meet on April 24 to work more on the conditions, and Lyonnais said he expects them to set a hearing date that night.
“We would like to have the whole thing done by June,” he said.
Lyonnais said residents have expressed concerns about marijuana being a gateway drug and how to keep it out of the hands of school children. The site is located next to a church and church members have requested that store hours be limited to those that don’t coincide with church functions.
Lyonnais said he was recently approached with a strong concern about the nature of the sign and said people don’t want to see something that is a joke or tasteless.
“I may suggest that the planning staff be allowed to review the sign to make sure it is respectful to the surrounding businesses. The applicant has been very cordial and appeasing. I think she will respect what we want,” he said.
Lyonnais said the commission has approached the Department of Transportation about concerns, since the site is located along Highway 12, but has not heard back yet. He said the DOT will research traffic patterns, how many additional trips the store may generate, and congestion issues.
“They’re on it and guarantee that they’ll have the information to us by the 24th,” he said.
Lyonnais said security is also an issue, and the planning staff is working hand-in-hand with the Sheriff’s Office.
“Some conditions are no-brainers, such as the number of parking spaces and ADA requirements. Others, such as paving, need to be justified. Is it to require the store owner to spend money, or to catch water that is running somewhere? There is no pavement on either side . . . those are valid concerns to be discussed. I have to not be concerned with what product they’re selling but my role is to be fair to both the community and the applicant,” Lyonnais said.
“This has been a good exercise in planning that the community has to go through. Things like this make us better planners. Maybe people will pay more attention in the future – not that they didn’t – when the commissioners are making these tough decisions,” Lyonnais said.