Stephen Hamway
The Bulletin

A proposed marijuana growing facility east of Bend looks to be headed for approval, after the Deschutes County Commission debated an unusual objection.

During deliberations Wednesday morning, county Commissioners Tammy Baney and Tony DeBone voiced support for an application for a marijuana growing facility operated by High Desert Nectar LLC, while Commissioner Phil Henderson expressed his opposition.

In addition to common objections concerning the odor, noise and water use that the facility may generate, opponents of the facility argued that its proximity to a local chapter of 4-H Club violates county rules prohibiting marijuana growing operations near “youth activity centers.”

“This is that crossroads of rural residential lifestyle in Deschutes County,” DeBone said Thursday.

On Sept. 14, county planners initially approved a marijuana growing operation on a 10.79-acre parcel just east of the turnoff for Powell Butte Highway, before Sean and ­Lyssa Bell appealed the decision 12 days later.

Liz Dickson, an attorney representing neighbors who appealed the county’s land use decision, said the decision has a chance to shape precedent for future marijuana land use issues in Deschutes County.

While the operation was planned on a parcel zoned for farm use, Dickson said it and the surrounding parcels are much smaller than most parcels of their kind. Because of that, the neighborhood is more close-knit than many rural areas, with families like the Bells regularly hosting 4-H meetings and other communal, youth-oriented events at their homes, Dickson said.

“Literally, they have a living room full of kids and parents,” Dickson said.

While Deschutes County code mandates that marijuana growing operations must be set back at least 1,000 feet from youth activity centers, the county lacks a formal definition for such centers. Because of that, Dickson and Bell argued that Bell’s home, which hosts a local chapter of 4-H — a national organization that provides youth-oriented activities, predominantly in rural communities — operates as a de facto center for youth activities, even though it doesn’t take place in a permitted facility.

Without a hard-and-fast definition of what constitutes a youth activity center in a fundamentally rural community, each commissioner was left to apply his or her judgment about whether the national youth organization qualifies.

During the meeting, Henderson said he believed regular meetings involving kids qualified regardless of the venue, as the original purpose of the statute is to keep marijuana away from Deschutes County youth.

“I think it continues to be a real problem with young people,” Henderson said.

However, Baney and DeBone disagreed, despite their personal experiences with 4-H. Baney said she was concerned about the precedent that excluding homes hosting meetings would set for future land use debates.

“Just because I don’t host monthly meetings at my home … are my kids less protected than those kids?” Baney said.

DeBone called 4-H “part of our culture in Deschutes County and in rural America,” but ultimately agreed that it didn’t rise to the level of a youth activity center.

The County Commission is expected to make its decision final during a meeting next Wednesday.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

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