Cheney commission recommends W-18
The Cheney Planning Commission voted 4-1 on Monday night, March 17, to approve moving the city’s interim marijuana facility zoning ordinance a step closer toward final adoption and incorporation into its municipal zoning code. The ordinance provides zoning requirements for anyone interested in siting a recreational or medical marijuana production, processing or retail facility in the city.
The commission narrowly defeated a proposed recommendation to the City Council that it consider adding churches to the list of sensitive uses listed in the ordinance protected by a 1,000-foot buffer zone. The buffer zone, part of Initiative 502 approved in 2012 legalizing marijuana for recreational use, prohibits such facilities from locating near schools, daycare centers, bus stops, parks and other public locations.
Implementation of the 1,000-foot buffer zone in Cheney virtually rules out marijuana facilities from siting anywhere with the exception of the business park and light industrial zones in the city’s south end, as well as a small section of C-2 commercial zone in the north along Cheney Spokane Road. Marijuana production and processing would be allowed in the first two with retail in the commercial zone.
Commissioner Keith Fauerso proposed the recommendation in response to correspondence from residents, including area pastors George Abrams, Steve Hetrick and David Krueger-Duncan, asking churches be included. Commission chair Vince Barthels noted this brought up the issue of how to define a “church,” something Cheney planner Brett Lucas said was not in the city’s code.
City attorney Stanley Schwartz said the city could create such a definition, but was not aware of any ordinance in the state that had included the use in the buffer zone. This brought a concern from Commissioner Antoinette Burkley about an email from resident Joan Mamanakis noting individuals commenting at a previous council hearing “came very close to outright saying” they planned to start a church in the business park or light industrial zones with the intention of prohibiting siting of marijuana facilities there.
Burkley later questioned whether an ordinance defining a church would be in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment Establishment Clause, with Commissioner Curt Critchlow asking if it would open up the city to potential legal liability. Schwartz said he didn’t see a code definition of churches creating either conflict, but added “Obviously it’s your call.”
“Religion is really something you don’t want to bring into an ordinance,” Barthels said.
Commissioner Vara Lyn Conrath noted daycares were included as a protected use, and a number of Cheney churches have daycares, which would then draw that church into the buffer zone. She questioned if a church without a daycare elected to form one, whether or not they would then also be included.
“Yes,” Lucas said. “As long as they were licensed.”
In the end Burkley, Conrath and new Commissioner Craig Huber voted against adding the recommendation to council, with Critchlow and Fauerso voting in favor. Fauerso cast the lone no vote against sending the ordinance back to City Council with the commission’s recommendation for passage in its original form.
The council could take up the ordinance for consideration for adoption into the city’s municipal code at its next regularly scheduled meeting March 25.
John McCallum can be reached at email@example.com.