Wednesday, April 21, 2021

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Williams to consider outdoor cannabis cultivation

The Williams Planning Commission made a bold move last month to recommend to the City Council that they allow outdoor cannabis cultivation in greenhouse structures commonly referred to as “hoop houses.” 

The Planning Commission voted 3-0, on Nov. 30, to approve an ordinance amendment that would create an overlay zone north of the Williams wastewater treatment facility to allow outdoor commercial cannabis cultivation and related activity. 

The city previously created an overlay zone located at the Business Park east of Interstate 5 that would allow for indoor marijuana cultivation and processing, but the 80-acre Canna-Hub facility, which originally proposed build-to-suit development for hundreds of licensed marijuana growers, never materialized. 

Williams resident Marco Guizar, however, has a business plan that does not include constructing multi-million dollar structures. He approached the city about allowing greenhouse structures for growing commercial cannabis in an area suited for agriculture, but still within city limits where marijuana cultivation is allowed.  

The action taken by the Planning Commission at their last meeting, however, does not authorize such a project, but simply makes the changes in the city’s zoning that could allow for Guizar to move forward, said City Planner Monica Stegall. 

“Applicants would be required to apply for a Conditional Use Permit to conduct any commercial cannabis activities within this zone and apply for a Commercial Cannabis Regulatory Permit,” Stegall said. 

City officials had previously not considered outdoor cannabis cultivation, largely because of commercial marijuana’s pungent odor during the flowering stage. 

However, Stegall, City Manager Frank Kennedy, and other city officials toured a similar facility in Woodland at harvest time and found the large greenhouse operations were more tolerable than they expected.

“It’s not as bad as you would think,” said Kennedy, who gave the operation the smell test from 250 yards away. 

The overlay zone for Williams’ outdoor cultivation would be about 1,200 yards north of the Police Department, and next to the sewer facility, which has its own musty odors originating from the anaerobic decomposition of organic compounds.

Officials said the operation, with a north wind, would likely have just faint odors at certain stages of the plant’s development that could be detected by those living in the far northern part of the city. 

Kennedy said with greenhouse operations, there is no way of blocking the odor entirely. 

The operation Guizar proposes would have a footprint of about six acres, with cannabis growing in individual pots rather than planted in the ground. 

The city’s developer agreement for cannabis operations would be based on square feet, rather than a percent of the growers’ gross sale of product, as in Colusa. 

Kennedy expects the city to initially receive $400,000 annually, if the project is approved, and $700,000 at full build-out, regardless of the company’s gross receipts. 

“For the small town of Williams, that is a huge chunk of money,” Kennedy said. 

Guizar said he is an experienced operator and is looking forward to bringing a project to Williams that provides the city with revenue, as well as creating 15 to 25 full time jobs, along with the hiring of seasonal workers.  

Guizar said he hopes to have his structures up and ready for spring planting in April 2021, if the Planning Commission and City Council give their approval. 

The Planning Commission has, at least, warmed up to the idea, since commercial cannabis has been legal in California since 2016.  

“I really don’t like the idea of growing weed in the city of Williams, but I have no concrete reason to oppose this project,” said Commissioner Omsher Sahota.

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