The Colusa City Council last week rezoned about 84 acres adjacent to the Sacramento River on East Clay Street from residential to light industrial to pave the way for the proposed 1.4 million square-foot Triple Crown Cannabis Research and Development Park.
The rezoning would allow the developers to scrap their previous plan to build a large residential project, originally pitched to the city during the booming housing market, in order to invest in the growing cannabis market.
Instead of 257 new homes, the Triple Crown project would include 14 to 17 “state-of-the-art” greenhouses for the cultivation of marijuana, as well as facilities for the manufacturing, research, and development of cannabis products, and a “state-of-the-art” testing lab.
The City Council also voted 4-0, with Councilman Dave Markss absent, to adopt the mitigated negative declaration prepared by Oakland-based Horizon Water and Environment, LLC, who determined that the impacts of such a large marijuana operation on air quality, water quality, utility and service systems, greenhouse gas emissions, storm drainage, wildlife, recreation, traffic, public health, and public safety would be insignificant with proper mitigation.
A monitoring and reporting program to ensure that the mitigation measures identified in the report are carried out as the project develops was also approved 4-0, upon the recommendation of the Colusa Planning Commission.
The Triple Crown project would be constructed in phases as market and investment opportunities demand, and would be subject to a host of required state and local permits, officials said.
According to Horizon’s report, the project could include, in addition to greenhouses for marijuana cultivation and processing, a 45,000 square-foot facility for research, development, and training, a 40,000 square-foot warehouse and distribution center, and a 30,000 square-foot administration building.
Seepage of water under the levee, odor, human exposure to hazardous materials, noise, and traffic are among the major challenges that will have to be mitigated, according to the report.
“I personally don’t care if they have marijuana processing there, residential housing, or 18 skyscrapers,” said Woody Yerxa, who spoke at the July 16 public hearing. “The seepage has to be dealt with.”
City officials said concerns about the project, particularly water seepage, would be dealt with during the permitting phase, once the property owner actually submits a project description and design, which has not yet been done.
“Once that does happen, we will assure the seepage is handled,” said City Manager Jesse Cain. “Everything is resolvable.”
A Colusa resident, who lives on East Clay across from the property, said he is deeply concerned about the impact a marijuana project of this size would have on the city, not to mention his own family’s quality of life and his property values.
“I don’t like it,” he said. “I don’t think it is in the best interest of the community.”
Among the public’s concern with a potentially large cannabis operation within city limits is the odor, as the mitigated negative declaration indicates that just 90 percent – not 100 percent – of marijuana’s pungent odor could be filtered to a less than significant level.
In a letter to Colusa officials, Colusa County Community Services Direct Greg Plucker said he also had concerns about the project and the negative mitigated declaration, which he said was not entirely supported by the evidence.
Plucker requested that the Colusa Planning Commission require a full Environmental Impact Report before they approve such a large project. Among his concerns is the use of highly volatile chemicals, solvents, fertilizers, and pesticides routinely used in the cannabis manufacturing industry.
City officials, however, said the state has stringent criteria for cannabis manufacturing, which includes the handling of chemicals, as well as restrictions on the total number of licenses each cannabis business can hold.
Colusa Mayor Greg Ponciano said each phase of the project would also have to go through the Planning Commission and City Council, and would be regulated and permitted each step of the way.
“We have some safeguards if this was to go forward,” Ponciano said. “There would be some safeguards, and part of those safeguards would be the developer agreement and licensing. And it is incumbent on the applicant to mitigate those things, like smell, like security… We are not going into this blindly.”
Cain said Colusa’s cannabis ordinance is written so that the city can review projects annually and ask all cannabis developers to “beef up” mitigation efforts if issues occur at their facilities.
Because last week’s City Council action was only to rezone the property and not to consider any actual project – cannabis or otherwise – city officials were not hesitant to express their relief that the large scale housing project the public has fought against for a decade has effectively been taken off the table.
“I’m very comfortable making the adjustment from residential,” said Councilman Tom Reische. ■