At the center of a battle over an application to establish a recreational marijuana dispensary in Tumalo is a Spanish expatriate trying to move her small tutoring business to a new location.

“I’ve been caught in the middle of this,” said Pilar Davami, founder of Spanish Learning Center, which offers Spanish and math classes to students ranging from prekindergarten to adulthood.

Davami has operated the tutoring business in Bend since 2011, according to documents from the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office. Davami, a native of Spain, said she saw a need in Central Oregon for additional Spanish-language and math-tutoring offerings. In addition to her business, Davami has taught Spanish classes at Seven Peaks School and through Bend Park & Recreation District programs.

“I’m going to take care of all the Spanish needs of the community,” Davami said.

The business is in the process of moving from its longtime home in Bend to a larger space in Tumalo, located at 19883 Eighth St., in a low-slung commercial building just off U.S. Highway 20. But the move, which Davami said will help her accommodate younger students, has landed the business in the middle of a fight over an application for Tumalo’s first recreational pot storefront.

The application, submitted by Mike Hayes, founder of the Bend-based recreational dispensary Miracle Greens, is going through Deschutes County’s review process, after it was appealed by Davami’s landlord, in part because the proposed pot shop is just across the street from the Spanish Learning Center. Davami’s business has subsequently been criticized by skeptics saying it doesn’t qualify as a school and represents a flimsy attempt to derail the application.

“The Spanish school is not private, it’s not public, it doesn’t meet (Oregon Revised Statutes) definitions and it doesn’t meet the county code’s definition,” said Stephanie Marshall, Hayes’ attorney, during a public hearing earlier in March.

Hayes submitted the application, which would set up an approximately 1,500-square-foot store near Highway 20, in July. The application was initially approved by county staff in the fall, but Davami’s longtime landlord, Joel Gisler, appealed the county’s decision in February, in part because of the proposal’s proximity to the Spanish Learning Center.

On Nov. 15, Davami signed a lease agreement to move from a building in Bend, which she said was also owned by Gisler, to the Tumalo facility.

In testimony delivered during a public hearing earlier in March, Joe Willis, Gisler’s attorney, described the dispensary as incompatible with its surroundings, including the tutoring center and other family-oriented businesses in the area.

“When you look at that antique store, you look at that Spanish school, it’s not (compatible),” Willis said. “It can’t be.”

Deschutes County’s ordinances prohibit marijuana-related businesses from being built within 1,000 feet of a school or a “youth activity center.”

However, Marshall argued that the learning center doesn’t meet county or state criteria for schools and expressed doubt that the tutoring center will operate in that location at all.

“We really caution the commissioners in their decision-making on this basis,” Marshall said during the hearing.

Davami acknowledged her business is not registered as a school but stressed that it will be a legal and compliant tutoring center when it gets up and running. She added that she’s hopeful the school can open later this year.

“I’m not in a hurry, but I want to get it done,” Davami said.

Because the center isn’t licensed as a school, whether it becomes a barrier to the application may come down to whether it meets the county’s definition of a youth activity center, a term that has come up during several recent marijuana-related appeals.

The county’s ordinances don’t define a youth activity center, however. The commission voted in February to deny an application slated for Dodds Road east of Bend, due in part to its ruling that ongoing youth-based equestrian activities in association with 4-H Club on a neighboring property qualified the property as a youth activity center, according to Commissioner Phil Henderson.

Henderson was also the dissenting vote on an application for a marijuana grow operation the county approved in December just east of the turnoff for Powell Butte Highway, again arguing that its proximity to a local chapter of 4-H violated county rules.

Henderson did not comment on whether the Spanish Learning Center constituted a youth activity center in his view.

“It’s not a hard-and-fast test,” he said.

For her part, Davami didn’t weigh in on the contentious application, though she said she hoped the kids she tutored would steer clear of the 21-and-over store if it gets approved.

“All I want is what’s best for the kids I teach,” she said.

The county is expected to make its final decision on the application by June 20.

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

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