OURAY COUNTY – Grand Mesa Growers, a Western Slope medical marijuana company with a grow facility near Ridgway, got a general nod of approval from the Ouray County Board of County Commissioners last week to move its plants back and forth between its existing building and a temporary greenhouse structure called a sunscreen filter room.
In doing so, the company will be able to conserve energy and save on electrical costs, its owners have stated.
County Planner Mark Castrodale recently issued a building permit for construction of the sunscreen filter room, but was concerned about the project’s legality as it pertains to a 2011 resolution banning medical marijuana centers and cultivation operations in Ouray County.
Grand Mesa Growers, which also does business as Acme Dispensary, Inc., Durango Healing Center LLC and Acme Ridgway, established its Ridgway grow facility before the county adopted the resolution banning such enterprises. Thus, its facility here is grandfathered in as a legal, non-conforming use, as long as it remains in compliance with the laws and regulations of the State of Colorado.
As County Attorney Marti Whitmore noted in a memo to the commissioners, the business is operated on a parcel of land that is zoned to allow farming and agricultural uses, and began its operation just like any other agricultural use by right.
The concern on the table was that under county rules, a non-conforming use cannot be expanded. However, Whitmore argued, the issuance of a building permit does not necessarily constitute an expansion of a non-conforming use.
In this case, expansion of use should be measured by the number of cultivated plants that have been licensed by the State of Colorado, she said. Grand Mesa Growers’s Ridgway facility is licensed for 2,600 plants – a number which the company apparently does not propose to expand.
“The owner is moving plants back and forth from the existing building into the greenhouse, but is not increasing the number of plants permitted,” Whitmore concluded. “As a result, there is no expansion of the non-conforming use.”
Commissioner Lynn Padgett went along with Whitmore’s logic, but stressed that she would like to get written confirmation from GMG that it does not intend to increase the number of plants it is growing, adding that she wants to make sure the State of Colorado’s Department of Revenue is up to speed on GMG’s intentions.
The Department of Revenue is charged with overseeing all medical marijuana facilities in Colorado, and enforcing the regulations that pertain to them.
“I wonder if there is a feedback loop between the county and the state?” Padgett wondered out loud. “The (county’s) nonconforming use permit assumes they (GMG) are following all the state laws.”
Commissioner Mike Fedel countered that he was comfortable with Whitmore’s conclusion and didn’t see a need to confer with state authorities. “It definitely boils down to a use issue,” he said. “This is a temporary structure that makes sense. As long as we meet our code I’m okay with this.”
But Padgett wasn’t quite so ready to give GMG a carte blanche to move forward without first touching base with state authorities. “Recent events here have shown that a lack of communication can have a local impact on citizens,” she noted, referring to the Gunn tire fiasco. “We should be assured the state is following its own rules. I believe it is a health, safety and welfare issue.”
Fedel dismissed Padgett’s concern as “putting our foot in the wrong place.”
Former County Commissioner Heidi Albritton, who resigned from her post as BOCC chair immediately after last week’s meeting, smoothed things over between Fedel and Padgett. “I don’t mind dropping them (the Colorado Department of Revenue) a line just to communicate,” she said. “It is essentially a law enforcement matter. The state should be communicating with our local sheriff’s department; we could reaffirm that is happening.”
But overall, Albritton concluded, GMG deserves to move forward with its plan without interference from the county. “They have been good actors and done their best to communicate with us,” she said.
Padgett confirmed on Wednesday that over the past week, the county has received confirmation that GMG’s Ridgway grow facility passed a recent inspection and is in compliance with the Colorado Department of Revenue.
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