Council takes no action; ESD building won’t get buffer from potential recreational marijuana shop

This photo from May 28 shows the West Canyon Village, where city officials will allow an application for a recreational marijuana dispensary to continue its process, despite the nearby proximity of a Malheur ESD building which houses an Early Intervention program for children ages 3 to 5.

ONTARIO — The application to locate a recreational marijuana dispensary in West Canyon Village, at the west end of Ontario, will continue to be processed despite the concern about its potential of being near an educational facility, as no action was taken by the Ontario City Council during its Thursday work session.

That facility is the building that houses Malheur Education Service District’s Early Intervention program. It is also the former Social Security Building, and is located directly south of, or behind, West Canyon Village.

The issue was whether the ESD location has a 1,000-foot buffer from any marijauna facility as do most other education facilities, such as schools; and a buffer around the ESD was intended by an ordinance passed earlier by the City Council.

However, according to the council agenda report, the buffer was being challenged by two parties interested in locating a dispensary in Canyon Village, questioning the legitimacy of the buffer including the one applicant for a permit, Smokey Joe, LLC.

At issue is whether the ESD’s Early Intervention program is in the same category as K through 12 schools, where a 1,000-foot buffer is required. Ontario officials, after conferring with the city attorney, have determined it is not and so a 1,000-foot buffer does not apply.

City Manager Adam Brown said it was the fall of 2018 that the city was first told the buffer for the ESD facility would not stand up to a challenge.

Brown said after further review, including state statutes, city officials have come to the same conclusion.

The Council took no action, allowing the application process to proceed, which is what Brown advised.

During the discussion of the City Council, Councilor Marty Justus read a statement complaining that the conflict with the application for the dispensary and the existing ordinance was known by city officials, including the city administrator, the city attorney, and the mayor, but was not brought to the attention of the City Council. He questioned their motives.

“In my opinion issuing any kind of permit that conflicts with existing ordinance is detrimental not only to the enforcement of the entire ordinance but sets a standard that puts the enforcement of all our ordinances is jeopardy,” he said in a statement.

Councilor Norm Crume replied saying, he does not believe where was any malicious intent on anybody’s part, and that it was time to move on.

Later, answering questions posed by The Argus Observer in an email, Justus said he was aware of negotiations taking place months before the Smokey Joe’s application was submitted. Those earlier negotiations were between the ESD and a dispensary developer (namely Hotbox Farms, the owners of which, Steven Meland and Jeremy Breton, Justus is a real estate Broker for), and the goal to move the ESD office to another location. However, Justus states that his clients never told him the buffer was invalid, which had stopped negotiations to move the ESD.

Issuance of the conditional use permit is not certain. If a permit is issued by the Community Development Department for the dispensary, Brown said the permit can still be challenged before city’s Planning and Zoning Committee and with a possible appeal before the City Council.

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Larry Meyer is a reporter for the Argus Observer.

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