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Farmers eye Ebey’s Reserve for pot

Island County Planning Director David Wechner field’s questions about marijuana-related land use standards from the planning commission and residents at Tuesday’s regular meeting. On display at the meeting are the county’s zoning maps.  - Janis Reid / Whidbey News-Times
Island County Planning Director David Wechner field’s questions about marijuana-related land use standards from the planning commission and residents at Tuesday’s regular meeting. On display at the meeting are the county’s zoning maps.
— image credit: Janis Reid / Whidbey News-Times

Central Whidbey farmers say they want to be able to grow marijuana in Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

“I grew up here and all I wanted to do was leave Whidbey Island,” said reserve farmer Josh Frank Harvey during Tuesday’s Island County Planning Commission meeting.

“Now this I-502 is giving me an opportunity to come back to Whidbey Island.”

The draft land-use regulations — on which the board took public comment Tuesday — singles out Ebey’s National Historical Reserve, limiting farmers to the smallest tier of production operations, 2,000 square feet or less.

Processing and retail were not allowed on the reserve under the draft land-use regulations.

The county issued a six-month moratorium on recreational and new medical marijuana businesses in November after the passage of Initiative 502, which legalized recreational marijuana production and distribution.

The state accepted a first round of applications for marijuana business licenses Nov. 18 to Dec. 20.

A total of 30 applications were made by potential growers, 20 applications for processing and nine applications for retail stores in Island County.

Harvey asked the commission to reconsider the draft ordinance’s ban on processing in the reserve.

Harvey proposes an organic operation on his rural agriculture-zoned property where the extent of processing would be trimming, weighing, bagging and labeling.

“I’m concerned about the reserve putting restrictions on what I can do with my property,” Harvey said.

“It seems a little unfair.”

Several other reserve farmers and land owners also weighed in, both during the public hearing and in writing.

“My whole issue with the ordinance is the section on Ebey’s Reserve,” reserve resident Wilbur Bishop told planning commissioners. “I think you should remove it.”

Bishop said he didn’t think Ebey’s Reserve farmers should be held to a different standard because it sets a bad precedence. He said restrictions should be the same county wide.

“It’s going to be a bad situation down the road,” Bishop said. “I don’t wanted to be treated any different.”

Judy Harvey, another reserve property owner, submitted several letters into the public record Tuesday, written and signed by herself and her neighbors in favor of lifting reserve restrictions.

“I do not support the county putting additional restrictions on the farmers of Ebey’s Reserve,” Judy Harvey said.

Kristen Griffin, who assumed her role as reserve manager last month, said that “opportunities to engage in the workshops didn’t occur” and that the reserve trust board is eager to weigh in on the restriction after their regular afternoon March 25 meeting.

“I think it’s important that the reason this (restriction) ended up in the ordinance is a concern for a special place,” Griffin said. “I appreciate that.”

While the planning commission took no action on the land-use standards Tuesday, Dean Enell and other planning commissioners said they were open to “scrapping” the restriction on Ebey’s Reserve based on farmer comments.

“To me, the purpose of the reserve is keeping agriculture flourishing,” Enell said.

Chairwoman Val Hillers said that of the 19 farms in Ebey’s Reserve, the planning commission had received signed letters from a number of the farmers.

“I think the farmer’s have weighed in here who said, ‘We don’t want this (restriction),’” Hillers said.

Planning Director David Wechner was given direction to change the land us regulations accordingly.

The planning commission’s voted to extended the public hearing until the board’s next meeting at 9 a.m. March 25.

The planning commission is hoping to get the land-use regulations approved in time for an ordinance to be passed by the Island County Board of Commissioners by the end of the six-month moratorium, May 13.

 

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