Thursday, June 24, 2021

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Williams approves outdoor cannabis cultivation

The Williams City Council is the first local legislative body to openly allow outdoor cannabis cultivation in greenhouse structures commonly referred to as “hoop houses.” 

The council on Jan. 19 approved an ordinance amendment to create an overlay zone on agriculture property north of the Williams wastewater treatment facility, which could open the door to the marijuana growers now looking to save money on upfront expenses.

Hoop houses are structures made of flexible materials that are typically open at each end, and cost significantly less money than permanent structures typically approved for indoor operations, officials said. 

“In addition to outdoor cultivation, there are a couple of other related uses that the ordinance would allow, and that is distribution, transportation, and non-volatile manufacturing,” said City Planner Monica Stegal.

California’s three cannabis licensing authorities have issued about 10,000 commercial licenses to cannabis businesses since January 2020. Currently, about 7,000 cultivators, 900 manufactures, 700 retailers, 300 delivery services, 1,000 distributors, and 300 micro-businesses are operating, according to the state. 

The Williams City Council, in 2018, created an overlay zone located at the Business Park east of Interstate 5 that would allow for only 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. 

By creating a new overlay zone for outdoor cultivation on property west of Interstate 5, the city anticipates at least one prospective grower to submit a plan for a project on at least six acres of the property within the next few weeks.  

While the ordinance did not require review under the California Environmental Quality Act, any project applications that come forward will be required to undergo the CEQA review process, Stegal said. 

The amendment creating the overlay zone has gone through several public hearings, but city officials said they have heard neither support nor opposition to open air cannabis cultivation. 

“In the two plus months we have been discussing this…we’ve not, at any staff level, received any positive or negative comments,” said City Administrator Frank Kennedy. “The community has been aware of this through public meetings, public notices. It’s been in the newspaper, it’s been posted literally everywhere, and we have literally not received any public comment.” 

Kennedy said the only likely objection to open air cultivation would be odor, but he felt that the site was sufficiently far enough from the north end of Williams that odor may only be a mild problem with a north wind, during the flowering stage when marijuana is the most pungent. 

The overlay zone for Williams’ outdoor cultivation would be about 1,200 yards north of the Police Department (1,110 yards from the closest residence) and north of the sewer facility, which has its own musty odors originating from the anaerobic decomposition of organic compounds.

“When we (looked) throughout the city for the best spot for a facility of this nature, this is as good as it is ever going to be,” Kennedy said. 

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

Kennedy expects the city to initially receive $400,000 the first year, if the prospective six acre project is approved, with the city possibly bringing in as much as $1.2 million annually. 

While the cannabis industry didn’t generate the total revenue anticipated after marijuana was approved for recreational use in 2018, which was largely strangled by regulations and overtaxation, the Cannabis Industry Journal predicts exciting new trends in 2021 that could spell good news for cannabis growers, including the likelihood that a more liberal U.S. Senate will provide cannabis businesses access to traditional banking and financing services. 

The industry also predicts that more cities and counties will revisit allowing cannabis retail storefronts as they attempt to fill budget gaps.

Williams officials, however, said they have no plans to allow marijuana retail shops anytime soon. 

“We do not want any dispensaries in town,” said Williams Mayor Robert Mendoza. “If investors are thinking about it three or four years down the road – no. The citizens of Williams have made us aware that they do not want dispensaries in town or any back door sales from the facilities.” 

Williams Police Chief Jim Saso said once any project is proposed for the site, the owners would have to submit a complete security plan that is approved by the State of California. 

There is no water or electricity on the property. Growers are looking at using well water for plant maintenance, and reclaimed wastewater to cool generators.

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