Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Speaking at government meetings...

Well, speaking at one meeting.  the other meeting forbid public comment, details below. 

 The first meeting I attended was the Snohomish County Agricultural Advisory Board.  This is a group of citizens who advise the county planning department on issues related to agriculture.  They are typically asked questions about situations where some activity is either happening or considering happening on agricultural lands, and the overall question is whether the activity in question is appropriate in an agricultural zoning.  The primary zones that they consider are AG-10 (agricultural uses, 10 acre minimum lot size) and R5 (agricultural uses and residential uses, 5 acre minimum lot size). 

The zoning situation here in Snohomish county is pretty regulated.   There are large spreadsheets (matrix) which list zoning along the top, and activities down the side.  So if you want to know if a farmstand is permitted in AG-10 zoning, you find "farmstand" and then find where that row intersects with the column for AG-10, and note the letter there. 

If the letter is "P" the activity is permitted, if it's "C" it's a conditional (read: Discretionary on the part of the planning department).  As with any law, if it's not explicitly mentioned, it's legal.  But since they've been working hard on listing every possible activity on these charts for the last 30 years, there aren't really any activities that aren't mentioned. 

The agenda for this meeting had two topics that I care about; one is more salmon recovery money being spent, and the other considering questions on whether Marijuana production should be allowed in agricultural zones, and if so, are there any restrictions (set back space from property lines, building requirements, etc). 

You can read my statement that I presented to the board here

I took some questions from the board, and one other person spoke, and the board voted unanimously that marijuana production was permitted in both AG-10 and R-5 zoning.  They further suggested that no restrictions on type of grow (indoor, outdoor, or type of building) be imposed; allow the farmers to choose whatever suits them best to produce their crop.   

The planning department also said something in their presentation to the board that really rang true:  They were trying to come up with regulations that removed discretion from the zoning decisions.  They don't want regulations that are subject to interpretation; they would much rather have them based on objective criteria -- like lot size.  When you get into having to interpret the zoning code for each case it gets expensive for everyone.  I support this approach by PDS. 

The planning commissioners are volunteers that are charged with interpreting planning and zoning code when there is uncertainty or dispute.  This particular meetings agenda had a briefing by staff to the planning commission.   
Four Planning commissioners on Dias (one seated out of sight on left)
So I witnessed a bit of political theatre in this.  Public comment was forbidden during this meeting, but the observers were mostly people interested in marijuana production.  So when the commissioners asked a question, the audience would often sotto-voice supply the answer, and the commissioners clearly had questions.  They hadn't seen anything on this before, and its a big topic.  They were considering marijuana production in zones other than R5 and AG10, primarily LI (light industrial) HI (heavy industrial) and various commercial and retail zonings. 
  Mr. Klein, after watching this theatre go on (commissioner voices a question, PDS staff unable to answer, audience whispers to PDS staff) forwarded a motion to allow public comment.  Apparently this sort of thing has happened before -- audience members having answers that the commissioners wanted, and this was brought up by a board member based on personal experience.  The vote was 5-1 to allow public input, but you need a minimum of 6, and the vote failed. 

The commissioners are being asked to provide recommendations on the zoning for a meeting of the Snohomish county council on Sept 25th for a potential enactment of an "emergency zoning" rule.  I'll be writing a letter that I hope will clear up the questions that the commissioners asked, and I'll make myself available to answer any questions they have for me as someone interested in potentially growing MJ on my farmland. 

Two commissions seated at table to right, one out of site on right, 6 present. 


1 comment:

Rich said...

I don't care one way or the other if someone wants to grow "flowers" on their land, but it seems pretty obvious to me that it's going to be pretty difficult to avoid being hounded out of the "flower" business by the government with all of their rules, regulations, and zoning regulations.

If a wet spot in a pasture can be classified as salmon or killer whale habitat just to force some sort of hidden agenda on the landowner, then it's hard to believe that the same people are going to allow something like "flower" production without constant interference.