By Nick Worth
Members of the Navajo County Board of Supervisors heard from several residents of Heber-Overgaard who spoke out against the proposed medical marijuana dispensary during their regular meeting Tuesday.
In outlining the issue for the board, Assistant County Manager Homero Vela told the board that Overgaard Compassion Care is looking at locating its dispensary at an existing office building on Highway 260 that is zoned commercial/residential. He told the board the company is in compliance with all state and county requirements, and that the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office has no objections.
He said 18 notices were sent to property owners whose property touches on the parcel. Public notices of the hearing were placed in the newspaper and signs posted on the property itself. Notice of the public hearing was also posted on the county website.
Vela noted there is a school bus stop 820 feet away from the proposed dispensary and said the person in charge of the buses is willing to relocate the bus stop, if necessary. A county ordinance requires that the facil-ity have no churches, child care facilities, public parks or schools within 1,500 feet of it.
According to Vela, Navajo County can have up to four dispensaries, with one for each Community Health Analysis Area (CHAA).
Vela also noted that if a dispensary is not located within 25 miles of a patient’s home, that patient is al-lowed to cultivate medical marijuana for his own use. He told the board if the special use permit is denied, it would open a large swath of land where uncontrolled cultivation of marijuana could then be allowed for pa-tients with a medical marijuana card. He said it would be an enforcement problem, while the dispensary would be a controlled operation. It was also noted that the sheriff’s office sub-station is located only a mile from the proposed dispensary.
Vela said if the special use permit is denied, it will put the community in more danger than if it is ap-proved, because without approval caregivers can grow plants for up to five patients each. He noted there would be less control over how much is actually grown.
“The staff recommends approval,” Vela said.
Jeff Quinn, representing Overgaard Compassion Care, which is owned by Michael DeCarlo, told the board that the debate on whether medical marijuana works or not was over two years ago.
“This is not a fly-by-night operation selling out of the back of a truck,” said Quinn. “People will not be hanging around smoking marijuana. There are guidelines.”
He said there are 105 patients currently in the CHAA.
“There are very few viable locations in Heber-Overgaard,” said Quinn. He noted that several locations were looked at and rejected because they did not meet the requirements for separation from schools, churches and parks.
“It’s like a pharmacy, a dispensary,” said Quinn. “It’s not a party spot.”
Robert Fern of Chandler, an administrator with Overgaard Compassion Care, spoke in favor of the dispensary.
“The last meeting before the planning and zoning commission was all about peoples’ opinions and fears,” said Fern, “opinions about whether it is actually helpful to patients, fears about it bringing crime into the area, intoxicated people in the area, smoking in the parking lot.
“We have met all requirements,” Fern said. “This should not be a decision based on peoples’ fears.”
In response to a question from Supervisor Jonathon Nez, Fern explained that if a dispensary sold to a per-son without a card they would face the same type of discipline as a liquor store owner who sold alcohol to someone underage, including loss of a very expensive license.
Supervisor and Vice Chairman Jerry Brownlow, who was chairing the session in the absence of Chairman J.R. DeSpain, said the board had received 18 letters speaking out against the issuance of the special use per-mit and five letters in favor of it.
David Weil, a homeowner in the nearby Overgaard Airpark, told the board he is against the permit.
“What would happen if someone on their sixth joint decides the runway is Highway 260?” Weil asked. He said he also has concern over the serious crime that could occur around this type of facility.
“People are selling drugs the minute they walk out the door,” Weil said of some dispensaries in other places. Do we want our children to be exposed to this?”
He said violent crime is associated with those types of businesses.
It was a concern common to all of the 11 people who attended the meeting to speak against the issuance of the permit.
June Call, president of the Heber-Overgaard Chamber of Commerce, told the board she is concerned for the safety of the community.
“Business owners facing this facility have four young children who are dropped off there by the school bus,” said Call. She also raised the issue of violent crime.
“I don’t think the community needs this,” Call said.
Jerry Call told the board that although the proposed dispensary is now legal under state law, the board can still approve or deny the special use permit request based on public safety and general welfare of the commu-nity.
“State law allows it, but doesn’t require that you approve it,” said Jerry Call. “These things have been a crime magnet in Los Angeles and they’re shutting some of them down.”
Valorie Hausmann, another airpark resident told the board she had several questions and concerns about the proposed business.
“I would like to see the business plan,” Hausmann said. “I know the cost of the rental on the building. I know the cost of the utilities.”
She said she wants to know who the group is that is financing the dispensary, and noted that she didn’t see how it could be cost effective.
“There’s something wrong here,” Hausmann said. “I don’t buy this.”
“It’s a non-profit, so their record keeping is very stringent,” said Vela. “It is a free enterprise and if the qualified patient does not like the cost at the dispensary they’re free to go to any other dispensary. We wouldn’t ask Walmart for a business plan and we shouldn’t ask a medical marijuana dispensary for a business plan.”
Amanda McLaws, an owner of the auto body shop across the highway from the site, told the board she has one 8-year-old dropped off there and that up to three days per week there are two children dropped off there.
“I don’t doubt they followed all the rules, but I don’t like it,” McLaws said. She said she was worried that people would not come to their auto body shop because of the proximity of the dispensary.
“We never would have put our business there if the dispensary was already in place,” McLaws told the board.
“It’s difficult enough in our schools right now to enforce and police illegal items,” said Loren Porter, a member of the school board. “By allowing a dispensary in the area you add that to what is already there. We’re adding to, not diminishing what is available and it makes it more difficult for our schools to enforce the rules.
“I can’t see how this is a benefit to our community, to the county and to the people you represent,” Porter said. “The state may have made them legal, but they’re not required.”
The board then went into executive session to consider the issue and receive legal advice from County Attorney Brad Carlyon.
Upon their return to regular session, Supervisor David Tenney asked that he be allowed to speak to the issue and make a motion since the proposed facility is in his district. He said the decision was not easy.
“For me today it comes down to this, that we need to stand on principle,” Tenney said. “As of right now the use of marijuana in this nation is a criminal act, and I believe it is a detriment to the health, safety and welfare of the people of the community of Heber-Overgaard.
“I move we deny the special use permit,” Tenney said.
Nez said even though the Navajo Nation is exempt from the medical marijuana law, his constituents feel the same as those present from Heber-Overgaard. He seconded Tenney’s motion.
Supervisor Jesse Thompson said he agreed with Tenney and Nez.
“This hasn’t been easy and I appreciate the voters of Navajo County being here today,” said Supervisor Jerry Brownlow. He then noted the voters of the state of Arizona passed a law legalizing medical marijuana.
“When I was elected four years ago, I took an oath to uphold the constitution of the state,” Brownlow said. He noted that because it is the law of the state right now, and because the applicants have met the requirements of the law and of the Navajo County ordinance, he recommended the board approve the permit.
The motion to deny the special use permit was approved 3-1 vote, with Brownlow casting the dissenting vote.
In other action Nov. 27, the board:
* Approved conducting a polling place election on March 12, 2013, for two positions with four-year terms on the Misty Mountain Domestic Water Improvement District Board. The terms will begin in April 2013 and end on Dec. 31, 2016.
* Approved conducting a polling place election on March 12, 2013, for one position with a four-year term on the Timberland Acres Domestic Water Improvement District Board. The term will begin in April 2013 and end in March 2017.
* Approved conducting an all-mail election on March 12, 2013, for three positions with three-year terms on the Timberland Acres Special Road District Board. The terms will begin in April 2013 and end in March 2016.
* Approved conducting an all-mail election for the Town of Pinetop-Lakeside on March 12, 2013, for four positions with four-year terms on the town council.
* Approved conducting a polling place election on March 12, 2013, for one position with a three-year term on the White Mountain Lake Special Road District Board. The term will begin in April 2013 and end in March 2016.
* Awarded a contract to Chapman Ford for the purchase of a 2013 Ford Expedition under a grant for $25,000. The balance of the vehicle’s cost will be paid from impound fees.
* Adopted a resolution supporting Navajo County’s 2013 legislative priorities.
* Approved sending a letter to Navajo County’s state lawmakers requesting support for the county’s 2013 legislative priorities.
* Certified revenue collected by the Superior Court, Clerk of the Court and all six Justice Courts.
* Approved the donation of a used printer to the Pinetop-Lakeside Senior Center.
* Heard a county finance update from County Finance Director James Menlove.
* Approved a temporary base pay increase of $500 for county employees for the year of 2013 only. The pay increase will be made in one payment.
* Heard a presentation by LaRee Price on the Navajo County Leadership Academy.
Acting as the Navajo County Public Health Services District Board of Directors, the board:
* Approved a teen pregnancy prevention contract with the Arizona Department of Health Services from Jan. 1, 2013, to Dec. 31, 2017, in the amount of $124,513.
* Awarded a contract to Hatch Motor-Company in the amount of $39,251.64 for the purchase of one 2013 GMC Yukon.
* Awarded a contract to Tate’s Auto Center in the amount of $43,087.12 for the purchase of two new Ford Fusions.
Acting as the Navajo County Flood Control District Board of Directors, the board:
* Awarded a two-year contract with three one-year renewal options to The Tomhave Group for legislative advocacy services to support the Winslow Levee and school bus routes initiatives for an amount not to exceed $50,000 per year.
* Approved a professional services agreement with Johnson Walzer Associates, LLC for architectural/engineering services for the Navajo County Public Works and Holbrook Road Yard facility in an amount not to exceed $100,000 from District III Special Road Funds and $54,000 from the Navajo County Flood Control budget.
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By Nick Worth