February 13, 2014 | Vol. 117 -- No. 43

Council advances marijuana ordinance

Cheney’s City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to move the city’s interim marijuana facility zoning ordinance forward in the process that could result in it becoming law.

The council approved Resolution E-196 that “adopts the legislative process” already established in the city’s municipal code for creating new regulations. In this case the new regulations are those developed in Ordinance W-18, put in place by the council in late November last year as emergency measures just in case the city should receive an application for siting a marijuana production, processing or retail facility.

In December the city’s Community Development Department received an application from Cheney Hydroponics to construct a marijuana production and processing facility in the Commerce and Industrial Park, one the few areas allowed under the city’s conditional use permit process and state regulations created with the passage of Initiative 502 legalizing recreational marijuana.

The council came to its decision after holding a special public meeting Jan. 20 called in response to an opinion by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson that language in I-502 did not pre-empt cities and counties from passing laws banning siting of marijuana facilities. Cheney’s council took public testimony at that meeting as well as part one of a public hearing begun at its Jan. 21 meeting.

The conclusion of that public meeting was held last Tuesday night, with only a couple people giving additional testimony. Resident Bonnie Eccles asked the council to not include in the ordinance a previous request made at the Jan. 21 meeting to add churches to the list of sensitive use facilities protected by a state law requiring marijuana facilities to keep at least 1,000 feet away.

Eccles said her definition of church is more traditional than some people’s, and that putting those facilities into the code could lead to someone starting a church and then seeking to locate it within 1,000 feet of a zone allowing for a marijuana facility. Cheney Community Church pastor Steve Hetrick disagreed with Eccles, saying protecting institutions with a religious 501 (c) 3 designation was a valid consideration.

Hetrick also claimed he had heard of several individuals who were thinking of starting up churches in Cheney and considering locating in the Commerce and Industrial Park. Mayor Tom Trulove questioned whether this would be an allowable use in the business park zone, speculating that if so, they would have to go through the same conditional use permit application Cheney Hydroponics is now undertaking.

“We have to decide if we want to push this (W-18) forward to be the basis of a permanent ordinance or not,” Trulove said.

The city has until May 25 to act on the ordinance by enacting it into law or replacing it with something else. Council approval sets up a timeline where a public notice of zoning is to be published in the local newspaper by Feb. 20, followed by a public comment period through March 10.

The city’s Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the ordinance at its March 10 meeting. The earliest the council would then be able to take up consideration of the ordinance as is or with changes would be its regular March 25 meeting.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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