MONTESANO — Growers, processors and potential sellers of recreational marijuana now have clear guidance on where they can open up shop in unincorporated Grays Harbor County after the county commissioners unanimously approved new zoning regulations Monday afternoon.
And minutes after the regulations were approved, at least one potential growing outfit came forward during the county’s public comment period to announce plans to occupy and invest millions of dollars into a workforce and buildings at the former Mayr Bros. property just outside Hoquiam to grow legal weed.
The proposed ordinance puts growing facilities mainly in agriculture areas and processing facilities in industrial areas or rural agriculture areas. Retail outlets would be located mainly along busy roads or highways and out of residential areas.
The whole concept is to ensure that residential areas aren’t affected by marijuana, said county Public Services Director Kevin Varness.
“A vote for this is just saying, ‘Here are the parameters’ and a vote against it is saying there are no parameters and you can set up shop anywhere in the unincorporated areas of the county,” County Commissioner Wes Cormier said before casting his vote in favor.
“I would like to vote ‘no’ because I would rather we not have any of that in the county,” Commissioner Herb Welch said. “However, as I’ve been told, if we don’t pass this my understanding is we leave it wide open where they can do this anywhere in the county. Even though we’re putting this into effect that does not preclude us from changing our mind.”
Other counties in the state, and a few cities on the Harbor, have a moratorium in effect preventing the placement of growers, processors or retail outlets.
“This was passed by a majority of the people and I am not for telling the people that they’re wrong,” Commissioner Frank Gordon said
While the City of Hoquiam has a moratorium on all aspects of marijuana growing and processing, just minutes outside the city limits will be the home to the Green Harvest Corp.
CEO Charles Feick and Vice President Bob Morse announced plans to take over part of the old Mayr Bros. logging company site on Highway 101, where they will lease a couple buildings and retrofit a 32,000 square foot warehouse to act as a growing space.
They said they applied for a license from the state Liquor Control Board and will need to get a license as well as move forward through the county’s permitting process.
Million dollar payroll
“We forecast that over $1 million will be spent to get the properties ready for production this summer,” Morse said. “Much of that money will be spent hiring local contractors and making the needed improvements on the property ” to meet state and county regulations.
He noted an eight-foot tall security fence will be installed around the buildings and a new security system will be installed, all to follow the state’s requirements.
“We expect to hire up to 25 people once we’re fully going at the site and we will generate an annual payroll in excess of $1 million,” Morse told the commissioners. “Almost all of our hiring will be done from the local workforce. … We’re proud to operate a new kind of business in Grays Harbor County. We’re looking forward to being a good neighbor and a new employer in the community.”
Feick noted they had hired Hoquiam attorney and city councilman Ben Winkelman to represent their company and Durney Insurance to handle their insurance needs.Winkelman most recently voted against the city’s moratorium. Hoquiam Mayor Jack Durney has spoken in favor of the moratorium. Durney said Monday afternoon he doesn’t discuss his clients, but notes that he sold his business to his son a year and a half ago.
Grays Harbor Environmental Health Director Jeff Nelson said there have been numerous calls for pre-applications to locate growing and processing facilities on the Harbor in anticipation of the county’s ordinance.
Commissioner Gordon also renewed his calls for the Port of Grays Harbor to embrace potential marijuana tenants for the Satsop Business Park, which has now been zoned by the county for growing and processing. There’s several empty buildings at the Port-owned business park, including a 50,000-square-foot warehouse that is still being paid for by the county. Last fall, the Port commissioners added new lease terms banning marijuana tenants at its properties.
“I’m asking the Port of Grays Harbor, how about getting off your duff and renting that site?” Gordon said during the commission meeting. “Because that whole site up there is empty. Even the dust bunnies are lonely.”