Council opts to seek input from Planning Commission on pot rules

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home City Council last week decided by consensus to seek the Planning Commission’s recommendation on land-use rules for marijuana facilities in Sweet Home.

Sweet Home voters on Nov. 8 approved allowing retail, production and processing facilities for marijuana inside the city limits. Statewide, voters passed Measure 91 in November 2014 to allow the sale and regulation of marijuana.

The council prohibited any new facilities in 2015 and sent the long-term question of whether to allow the production and sale of marijuana to voters in November.

Marijuana facilities cannot be located in residential areas or within 1,000 feet of a school, City Attorney Robert Snyder told the council during a work session held on Nov. 29.

State regulatory agencies check at the time of licensing that producers and retailers are complying with local land-use laws and other regulations, Snyder said.

Cities can regulate the time, manner and place of sale, Snyder said, and the rules must be consistent with city comprehensive plans, zoning ordinances and health and safety laws.

Snyder told the council it could use its police powers and develop health and safety regulations, such as nuisance ordinances, to regulate marijuana in Sweet Home, or the council could handle it through its land-use regulations.

The council may want to limit producers and processors to industrial zones and set regulations for retailers in commercial zones, Snyder said, noting that the rules shouldn’t be too restrictive.

If the council develops its regulations through the land use process and keeps them loose enough, he said, that will eliminate a potential argument in court by producers and sellers who might claim that since they city prevented them from gong any place, they can go anywhere.

The council could require retailers to go through a conditional use process rather than allowing them as an outright use in commercial zones, he said. With a conditional use permit, potential sellers would need to go through a public hearing process where the city could regulate issues like dust, fencing, lighting and more.

The council could potentially restrict marijuana businesses by creating a buffer zone with residential zones. City staff prepared a map showing no restriction based on the distance from residential zones, 150 feet from residential zones and 300 feet from residential zones.

The council could also consider other buffer zones for churches, parks and other facilities, Snyder said. “They’re fairly limiting. If you deal with buffers, somebody’s going to object, and you’re going to go to court.”

With a 300-foot residential zone buffer, said City Manager Ray Towry, Sweet Home has just five commercial properties where retail outlets would be allowed. They may not be for sale, or they may not even be buildable.

“If somebody’s going to challenge your stuff, I would think it would be your buffer,” Snyder said.

“I just have a problem with having a dispensary next to my house,” said Councilor Dave Trask. He also was concerned about having marijuana facilities too close to parks and churches.

“You’re exposing children to it,” Trask said. “That just defies common sense to me.”

“My whole thing is residential,” said Councilor James Goble.

Councilor Greg Mahler said he was concerned about marijuana facilities near both ends of the entrance to Sweet Home.

“What image do you want people to see when they come into Sweet Home?” he asked, suggesting that this is a time when Sweet Home is trying to improve its image and develop its economy.

“I don’t think we should go with no buffer, but I don’t think we can get away with 300 (feet),” Mahler said.

“Ultimately, this is going to go the way of bars,” Mayor Jim Gourley said. “I don’t see people stumbling out of the recreational facilities fighting.”

The council reached a consensus to send the issue to the Planning Commission for recommendations and to begin the ordinance revision process. The council particularly is seeking its recommendation on a residential buffer, set at zero, 150 or 300 feet and whether retail outlets should be a conditional use or an outright use in commercial zones. The council also wanted to know the commission’s reasoning for its recommendations and wanted to hear additional ideas if planning commissioners have them.

The Planning Commission will handle the discussion at its Jan. 9 meeting as an open forum. For more information about the Planning Commission meeting, call (541) 367-8113.

In other business, the council considered a job credit program that will reward employers for adding jobs by waiving city development fees. The goal is to encourage businesses to locate in Sweet Home or remain and expand in Sweet Home. City staff will adjust details of the program to the program before returning it to the council for review.

Eligibility is similar to the enterprise zone that surrounds Sweet Home and offers property tax incentives.

Eligible businesses include manufacturers, processors, shippers and a variety of operations that serve other organizations as well as call centers and headquarter-type facilities, said Public Works Director Mike Adams. Hotels and resorts are also eligible.

Enterprise zone incentives are available to businesses that expand by one job or 10 percent of its workforce, whichever is greater. They must maintain employment during the tax-exemption period and enter an agreement with local job training providers. They also must meet local wage requirements for the new positions. Currently, in Sweet Home, it requires an average wage of $31,000.

Goble was concerned that the average could be met by several low-paying jobs and a small number of high-paying jobs.

Mahler wondered if the number was too low.

“The direction Salem is going, in a couple of years, that’s going to be minimum wage,” Mahler said.

Gourley suggested including a sunset clause in the program, so it ends in five years and must be reviewed then.

The council also reviewed proposed rules governing the City Council itself, including procedures for introducing legislation; options to convert council information from paper to electronic; requirements for naming public facilities; combining city committees; and the development of a committee to review the city’s charter and consider changing the way the mayor is selected.