18 Jul 19
A cannabis farm attempting to come into compliance near the Jacoby Creek Forest in Arcata is facing some pushback from the city.
The Arcata City Council voted 3-2 to send a letter to the Humboldt County Planning Commission requesting it apply the Forest Management Committee’s recommendations that a 150-foot setback for Emerald Coast Genetics, a cannabis farm that shares a corner with the forest, be enforced and require the business to replant trees within that buffer zone where possible. City councilmembers Michael Winkler and Brett Watson were opposed.
Winkler and Watson expressed support of a more stringent 600-foot setback for the farm as laid out by the county’s cannabis ordinance.
“I feel like nobody knows the forest better than (Environmental Services Director Marc Andre),” Watson said. “That’s my opinion. Right now, I’m fully behind the recommendation of keeping with the 600-foot opinion.”
Andre acknowledged that the 600-foot setback would wipe out the entire operation, while a 150-foot setback would allow it to continue but in an impaired state.
Emerald Coast Genetics has a 15,000-square-foot, mixed-light cannabis farm that is about 30 feet from the city’s Jacoby Creek Forest, adjacent to two Humboldt Redwood Company properties and designated a timber production zone.
The operation currently has a 30-foot setback from adjacent properties. Andre said the cannabis farm is close to valuable timberland and that makes it more difficult for the city to manage those resources.
“The 30-foot setback, in our opinion and the Forest Management Committee’s opinion, would impact the city’s assets, the city’s timberland,” Andre said. “The grant-funders that helped acquire that part of the community forest expect us to protect it and manage it well and make sure land uses on its peripheries are compatible.”
Andre said water quality is a primary concern because the operation is so close to the forest’s property.
“The issue is not whether it can be there — it can,” Andre said. “It’s the setback issue.”
New cannabis cultivation isn’t allowed in the timber production zone, but Bruce Zimmerman, who owns the property, said his business began operating there in 2010. At that time, Zimmerman obtained all the proper permitting for the greenhouses at the site and the county’s cannabis ordinance allows for businesses that weren’t compliant to come into compliance.
“I’ve been a contractor all my life,” Zimmerman said. “We know how to build things and we did things right.”
Cliff Johnson, senior planner with the county Planning and Building Department, confirmed that the “majority of the greenhouses on the property were permitted with the Building Department way before the cannabis ordinance.”
“They weren’t permitted for cannabis, but for typical agricultural uses,” Johnson said.
Other agricultural uses are still allowed in that area, but cannabis has more strict setback requirements than other types of agriculture.
But Zimmerman said his property only shares a corner with the forest and that there is a 40-degree slope separating the two.
“I walked that corner yesterday and carefully looked,” Zimmerman said. “I could not hike up to it.”
Zimmerman said it was better for a cannabis operation to be there than another type of agricultural activity because cannabis is more heavily regulated. Zimmerman’s son Brian said if they were operating a pig farm, there would be much fewer environmental regulations, though Andre said there would still be issues from the city’s perspective with that kind of operation.
Zimmerman said that the request to replant the area within the 150-foot setback was also problematic because a septic system is located close by.
“Trees are a no-no,” Zimmerman said. “Affluent septic systems greatly attract roots and get to the little holes in the drainage system. That will ultimately destroy your septic system.”
That controls all of the development that can take place on his land, Zimmerman said, because the three acres in question are the only ground flat enough to allow for a septic system.
The county Planning Commission can decide to waive the setback requirement for Zimmerman by granting him a special permit, according to the ordinance. Johnson said the Planning Commission would still weigh the city of Arcata’s concerns into its final decision.
That meeting will take place at the earliest by late August, Johnson said.
Zimmerman said he bought the property over a decade ago to retire on with his wife, who ended up dying of a terminal brain disease. His son began the cannabis operation around that time and the family has invested over $2 million in the property since, Zimmerman said.
“This entire thing has been so stressful,” Zimmerman said. “I have my life savings on the line and people don’t seem to care.”
Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0506.
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