Planners grapple with deluge of pot grow applications

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – Commercial marijuana permit applicants have responded to the county’s call for completing their paperwork and the Planning Commission is gearing up for what one commissioner described as “a big iceberg heading our way.”

In a report to commissioners at their July 13 meeting, Planning Director John Ford said that 926 permit application resubmissions were received at the end of June. “Yeah, it’s a big, big number,” he said, responding to commissioners’ expressions.

Of those, “a substantial number are complete and ready for processing,” said Ford, which will increase the commission’s workload over the summer.

Ford said that about 30 percent of the completed applications will only require administrative approvals without public hearings. Another 30 percent are suitable for departmental sign-offs but would go before the commission for public hearings if residents request them.

An additional one-third of the applications would be for cultivation and business proposals of a scale that would trigger mandatory public hearings.

The commission’s meeting had included approvals of two Willow Creek marijuana permits, for a cultivation site and the second phase of a cultivation and manufacturing operation that includes extraction labs.

Those actions brought the county’s number of approved commercial marijuana permits to 45. Ford told commissioners that “several” more will be before the commission in August and then he added, “It’s actually many.”

Three outside consulting firms have been hired by the county to write staff reports and are now working on 60 of the permit applications. Another firm is working “in-house,” Ford continued, providing planners to “help sort through these applications that have been submitted.”

The county is also in the process of adding five planners to the Planning Department, four of whom will work solely on marijuana permitting.

Board Chair Bob Morris noted that the county received over 2,300 permit applications under the deadline of its current commercial marijuana production ordinance. With 926 in the paces of completion and 45 permits approved, that leaves over 1,300 in limbo.

Asked about that by Morris, Ford said that some of the outstanding applicants have indicated they are still working on achieving completed applications. “Some of them, we don’t know if they will come to fruition or not,” he added.

If applications are not declared as being complete within six months of being submitted, they are considered to be withdrawn. The county is sending letters to permit applicants informing them of that.

An initial set of 154 letters was sent in May. Ford said that the mailings drew responses that made 144 of those applications complete.

“It seems that people are being responsive when they’re given information,” Ford told commissioners.

Additional letters were sent in June, and Ford said a “big batch” of resubmissions is expected in early August – six months from the date that the county sent 1,500 letters requesting more information from applicants.

Commissioners considered the dilemma of holding meetings over the summer, when some commissioners will not be available. Ford proposed a set of dates, but not enough members of the commission could make them.

Aug. 3 and Aug. 24 were eventually agreed upon as meeting dates. Commissioner Ben Shepherd noted that the commission will be reviewing ordinances for the county’s General Plan Update as well as the marijuana permit applications. Adding that “somebody described this to me as an iceberg heading our way,” Shepherd suggested holding occasional all-day meetings.

Ford said he would look into the logistics of doing that.


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