A proposed medical marijuana greenhouse won approval from the Pitkin County commissioners Wednesday, but it won’t be as large as the operators originally envisioned.
It was standing-room-only at the meeting, where most who gathered came to voice their opinions concerning the marijuana operation. But as it turned out, marijuana wasn’t the key issue.
Local businessman Jordan Lewis and Mitch Haas, a planning consultant for Lewis, presented plans to develop a 4.7-acre parcel about a mile south of downtown Basalt on Highway 82.
The plan included maintaining the existing residences and garages while adding several greenhouse modules and ancillary support buildings that totaled 37,500 square feet of floor area. But the commissioners, by a 3-2 vote, decided to reduce the floor area of the greenhouses to 25,000 square feet and re-evaluate the impact of the greenhouses after one year of operation.
After the commissioners voted to approve the resolution, Lewis was visibly relieved.
“I’m happy,” Lewis said. “Their decision is feasible. I’m glad the board took the time to dive into this.”
Commissioners George Newman and Michael Owsley voted against the resolution.
During public comment, the proposed growing of medical marijuana received an equal number of supporters and people who expressed concern for such an operation. But for the Board of Commissioners, the crop made little difference as compared with the land-use issues and size of the proposed operation that had to be dealt with first.
The area that Lewis wants to develop was zoned Agricultural/Residential-10 in the 1970s. That type of district is intended to accommodate small-scale agricultural activities and large-lot residential development that maintains the rural character and appearance of the land.
It was the wording of the zoning that brought the most debate: Was the proposal really agricultural, and what, exactly, defined rural character?
The commissioners spent several hours discussing the pros and cons of such an operation.
The presentation by Haas and Lewis was thorough and asked for no special treatment or exemptions. Their goal was to show that an agricultural operation could exist in the proposed area with little environmental impact while maintaining the rural landscape.
“This is a land-use issue,” Commissioner Steve Child said. “I’d rather see some viable agricultural use from that land, and this proposal seems to fit from an agricultural standpoint. As far as maintaining a rural character, well, this area lost its rural character a long time ago when they put in the highway and all the surrounding buildings and businesses.”
The greenhouses they proposed to build will use natural sunlight as much as possible and not allow light to escape the buildings during the evening.
The board also wanted wording added to the resolution to act as a mechanism to maintain the buildings if they were abandoned or become rundown for any reason in the future.
Lewis hopes to break ground as quickly as possible but couldn’t say if that will happen before the winter season settles into the valley.