WALLA WALLA — The City Council has approved an interim ordinance that will curtail the locations of future marijuana retail, agricultural and processing sites to a handful of commercial and industrial zones within city limits.
With Mayor Jim Barrow absent, the measure was approved unanimously by the Council members at Wednesday’s meeting — despite objections by Walla Walla County commissioners.
The City Council was in agreement that the best method to control future marijuana businesses was to govern them through zoning, especially when considering the fact that next month the State Liquor Control Board will start accepting applications for marijuana retail, growing and processing sites.
One of the locations where marijuana could one day be sold, however, would be across the street from the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds at its northern boundary along Tietan Street.
County Commissioner Jim Johnson testified that the commissioners learned of the possible location on Monday and that they wanted more time to study the proposed ordinance.
“Whether or not this zoning designation is appropriate near county-owned public recreational properties is a question that the county should have an opportunity to analyze,” Johnson said before asking Council to hold off on establishing the interim ordinance.
“It seems quite possible that a marijuana establishment could become vested (grandfathered) into a location under the interim ordinance even if permanent regulations later prohibit such an establishment,” he added.
City Attorney Tim Donaldson wrote in an email to the Union-Bulletin that he understood the commissioners’ concern.
But he added that the new ordinance greatly reduces the number of locations where marijuana businesses can be located and “provides better protection for that area.”
“It was adopted to protect the City while permanent regulations are processed,” Donaldson wrote, noting that the State Liquor Control Board had delayed in producing regulatory guidelines. “I regret that there was not more time for one-on-one discussions ... but the late adoption of regulations by the Liquor Control Board, last minute release of agency explanatory materials, and shortened timelines put us into a scramble at my office.”
The state agency has determined Walla Walla can have a maximum of two marijuana retail stores, though the number of growing and processing businesses is not limited.
Under Walla Walla’s ordinance, growers will be limited to highway commercial zones, light industrial zones and airport development zones.
Processors will be classified similarly to distilleries and be allowed in light and heavy industrial zones.
Marijuana stores will be allowed in highway commercial zones.
None of the three would be allowed in residential areas, and all would require conditional use permits, which require public hearings on applications.
Along with the zoning ordinance regulations, the Liquor Control Board has already established numerous buffer zones for children-centered facilities. What that means is the marijuana business will have to be at least 1,000 feet from an elementary or secondary schools, playgrounds, recreation centers, child care center, public parks, public transit centers, libraries and game arcades.
By establishing marijuana business zoning codes, Donaldson said the number of locations was reduced considerably. The total number of sites that would tentatively qualify include areas along Rose Street between Avery Street and Myra Road; around the intersection of Pine Street and Myra; along West Tietan Street from South Fourth Avenue onto just past Stevens; along Isaacs Avenue from Criss Lane to just west of Tausick Way; and an area of several blocks of mostly industrial but some residential north of Highway 12 and southeast of 13th and Rees avenues.
The interim ordinance went into effect immediately and will continue for one-year are at which point it is approved as a permanent ordinance.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8325.