Ferndale council lifts moratorium on new recreational pot businesses

A divided City Council decided Monday, Oct. 6, to end Ferndale’s temporary ban on new recreational pot businesses — just a month after extending a six-month moratorium.

The council voted 4-3 to do so, with members Keith Olson, Jon Mutchler and Carol Bersch as the no votes.

Council members also voted down a second proposal to:

Adopt another, partial moratorium that would have allowed new applicants to go into only light industrial and manufacturing zones.

Have the Planning Commission review current zoning for retail stores as well as growers and processors. For retail, the commission would have been asked to consider allowing pot stores only in areas zoned general business. For growers and processors, the commission would have looked at restricting those businesses to light industrial and manufacturing. The commission’s recommendations then would have gone back before the City Council.

The vote was 6-1 on the second proposal, with Councilman Brent Goodrich as the lone yes vote.

“I would like one more look at it to make sure these other zones are where we want the retail and the growers-processors to go,” Goodrich said about sending the matter back to the Planning Commission.

The council already had approved the zoning for recreational pot businesses when members instituted a moratorium March 3.

City officials originally were concerned that the Washington state Liquor Control Board was allowing businesses that have applied for a state license to move from jurisdictions with permanent bans or temporary moratoriums to ones that didn’t have them — possibly opening the way for a flood of pot businesses to come to Ferndale.

That hasn’t happened, city staff told the City Council, recommending that members lift the moratorium they had extended Sept. 2.

Heather Wolf, an attorney representing pot grower-processor Ocean Grown Enterprises, warned the council against instituting a partial moratorium — noting that her client and another grower-processor already are operating in Ferndale in the general business zone under rules previously approved by the city.

“A partial ban that would only allow marijuana businesses in (light industrial and manufacturing) makes no sense and has the potential to create two non-conforming uses,” Wolf wrote in a letter to city officials.

“There’s no justification to enact a partial moratorium,” she told the council Monday.

Representatives for Northshore Corp., which wants to develop a business park at Brown and Malloy roads for growers and processors, also urged the City Council to lift the moratorium. Project backers still must submit an application to the city.

“There’s a zillion things to make this thing be really successful. I can’t do anything until the moratorium is lifted,” said Tracy Carpenter, a managing broker working to lease the space.

Council members Mutchler and Olson were concerned about the number of pot businesses that Northshore might draw, which could be as many as 15 growers-processors.

“The scope of Northshore — 50 acres near Ferndale residential housing, 360,000 square feet of covered (Initiative) 502 processing, more than the size of three Walmarts — seemed to me to be the reason council enacted two moratoriums in the first place. At least, that is what I thought. I thought council was fine with ‘some’ 502 activity, our ‘fair share.’ But I was wrong,” Mutchler said in an interview.

That became clear during the meeting.

“Marijuana is a legal business. I see it as 21st century economic development,” council member Cathy Watson said Monday.

Noting the council doesn’t use zoning to exclude businesses, council member Paul Ingram urged: “Let’s rescind the moratorium and move on.”