Colusa Planning Commission approves one pot project, denies another after public hearings

The City of Colusa’s Planning Commission asked for more public participation and they got it, as citizens packed the council chambers at Colusa City Hall for last week’s public hearings relating to two cannabis businesses in town.

In front of a standing-room-only crowd, the planning commission unanimously gave their blessing for the City Council to approve an amended development agreement with Big Moon Sky – already operating at a temporary location in Colusa – and unanimously voted against approval of a new development agreement with Greenceuticals, which is looking to open a cultivation facility in the heart of the city’s Riverfront District.

Big Moon Sky gets commission ‘OK’

Big Moon Sky, which is currently operating out of a portable trailer on 8th and Main Streets in Colusa, is planning to move to 210 6th St., the former home of Sierra Flowers. Because of the move, the company needed to amend the development agreement – which is tied to a specific location – it had signed with the city last year. Big Moon Sky was forced to move after their current landlord, Brent Nobles, agreed to sell his property to Greenceuticals for the construction of their cultivation facility. During last week’s meeting, Big Moon Sky CEO Zack Crafton said that his company’s needs had also outgrown its current temporary home. Crafton views the move to the new location as an interim step, and still plans to purchase or build a facility around town at some point in the next few years. The new location will be more conducive to the “tech” side of the e-commerce business, Crafton said, and will provide more office space.

“We are cramped for space,” Crafton said.

Crafton explained that Big Moon Sky takes already packaged cannabis products from state-licensed producers, organizes them into set collections, and sells them as collection boxes – which are sold online and delivered directly to the consumer in municipalities where cannabis sales are allowed. The products cannot be sold anywhere in Colusa County, because commercial sale is currently not allowed in unincorporated Colusa County, nor the cities of Williams and Colusa.

“Essentially, what we are is a distributor,” Crafton said.

A total of five residents – including John Rogers, Elizabeth Yerxa, Kathleen Langhi, Cynthia White, Scott Marshall, and Linda Womble – spoke in opposition to the new location, citing concerns that included the historical relevance of the new location, parking, the lack of fit with the city’s vision for the downtown area, and the length of the development agreement. Marshall called attention to the fact that cannabis is still illegal under federal law.

When the discussion came back to the commission for deliberation, Commissioner Brendan Farrell explained that the commission’s hands were somewhat tied, given the current law governing commercial cannabis operations in the city.

“Prior to the meeting, we discussed the primers of what our decision making could be,” Farrell said. “The City Council has passed an ordinance… The City made a determination to allow these types of businesses. If you have an issue with that, it needs to be taken up with the city council. It’s not our job to overturn a law passed by a democratic body.”

Ultimately, the commission – on a motion from Farrell, seconded by commissioner Ken Flagor Jr. – voted unanimously to recommend the City Council approve an amended DA with Big Moon Sky, but included some recommendations that reflected the comments and concerns from the public. Among the recommended changes to the amended DA were reducing the term of the agreement from 10 to five years, and adding language that the Heritage Preservation Commission be consulted for the design of a facade at the building, to call attention to its history as the home of the Colusa Sun newspaper – owned and published by Will S. Green, who was also a founder of the City of Colusa.

Whether or not those recommended changes are implemented depends on the City Council, however, noted Commissioner George Parker.

Commission denies Greenceuticals DA

In a 5-0 decision, on a motion from Commissioner Farrell, seconded by Commissioner Flagor, the planning commission voted to recommend the city council deny a development agreement with Greenceuticals. The decision came after the public expressed concerns over the project’s compatibility with the Riverfront District, the level of environmental review for the project, and the demolition of the historical Stokes Building at 104 8th St. Other concerns included what would happen if the federal government shut the facility down, parking, potential odors, impacts to the city’s water and sewer systems, and the lack of environmental review for the project.

Birender Sandhu of Greenceuticals, City Manager Jesse Cain, and City Planner Bryan Stice addressed many of those concerns directly. Sandhu said that there would be adequate off-street parking at the proposed facility to accommodate the estimated 15 people he plans to employ. The employees would be split into three shifts, and a maximum of five employees would be used for each. While he said he couldn’t promise there would be zero odor issues with the facility, he said that temperature controls and a $200,000 odor mitigation system would result in “almost no odor… if at all.” Cain and Stice both said that if there were odor issues, the company could be shut down during the annual renewal of their special use and regulatory permits. In the event that the federal government shuts down the cannabis cultivation, Sandhu said that the building would not go unused.

“We’re putting hard earned money, 3.5 million into the project. If we shut down, we’re not raising any money,” Sandhu said. “If the feds shut us down, believe me, I’m putting a mushroom plant there. Something to grow. We are not abandoning. We are here to stay. We are moving to Colusa… We’re buying into Colusa and we’re moving here. It’s not a question of we shut down and we abandon the building. That’s not happening.”

Since the last planning commission meeting, Greenceuticals’ developers considered public feedback and altered their design for the facility they plan to construct, reducing the height of the building to comply with the existing zoning codes for that part of the city – reducing the height of the building from 48 feet to 35 feet. The reduction means that the proposed facility would be reduced from three to two stories, with a corresponding lower square footage for the building.

While some members of the public said they appreciated the company’s willingness to consider their prior input on the building design, other concerns remained.

Jim White, a member of the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission, said he was not in favor of demolishing the historical building. Both he and his wife, Cynthia White, said that the project was a poor fit for the city’s vision for the Riverfront District, as defined by the city’s general plan – which the city paid a professional planning firm “a lot of money” to come in and prepare.

“It doesn’t fit with the general plan’s ‘Community Character and Design,’” Cynthia White said. “An agricultural operation on Main Street in the Riverfront District was never mentioned. I can’t even imagine how this even got to where it is, except the city council needs money and they see this as a cash cow. We’re doing a disservice to the people we’re nodding our heads to by telling them that it is… If you polled every person on that general plan committee, and you would have told them that this is what would have come out of that, I don’t think they would have believed you.”

During commission deliberation, Commissioner Farrell reiterated while there were legitimate concerns surrounding the potential cultivation facility in the Riverfront District, the fact that the Planning Commission’s duty was to determine whether a given project was consistent with the law.

“Cultivation is included in the new law, passed by ordinance of the city council… Is this building in conflict with the current neighborhood? That’s a tough question,” Farrell said. “On top of that, these are people putting their money where their mouth is, putting $9 million into this community up front. That has to be respected, as something that doesn’t happen all the time.”

Farrell added that while odor was a major concern, and although the project developer couldn’t guarantee there would be zero odor, the city code has requirements in place for odor regulation.

“It  doesn’t require all odor (be regulated), but it does require that odor is something that is taken care of. And that would be a violation – every year, when they come to the city for permitting, the city could then take that up,” Farrell said.

Commissioner Parker reiterated concerns over the lack of environmental review for the project, and said that while the company was committing to bring $9 million to the city, they had put zero dollars into an environmental study, which Parker said would “prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the process is fair and not biased.” Parker also said that he didn’t believe the project was consistent with the general plan, despite the city’s cannabis manufacturing ordinance.

A major issue raised by the public during the meeting was the noticing process for the project, as a handful of neighboring property owners and businesses claimed they never received mailed notice from the city. Those included Kathleen Langhi – owner of Colusa Made – and John Rogers. Commission Chair Richard Selover said that he contacted neighboring property or business owners Mike West, Randy Salveson, Scott Kittle, John Rogers, and Paul Santinelli (Langhi’s husband), each of whom said they had not received mailed notice of the public hearings.

“All of your neighbors have said they don’t want you here, and they asked me to reflect that to this body,” Selover told Sandhu.

On Monday, City Manager Cain said that the mail notification process was “clearly an issue” and the city was exploring its options moving forward.

“The way we’ve noticed, is whatever is on record (as the property owner) is they way we’ve noticed it. What we’ve talked about is sending everything certified mail, because that way we’d know if they got it or not… The law says you have to notice property owner, not the tenant. Think there’s a big disconnect there, as far as property owners. The law says have to notice within 300 feet of the area. If you didn’t get noticed, it could be you aren’t within 300 feet, or aren’t the property owner. Bryan and I have talked about trying to do some different things, either hand delivery or certified mail.”

Cain added that anybody who requests to be notified about projects in a particular area would be put on the mailing list and noticed if anything pops up.■

SHARE
avatar
Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net