By Linda Kor
A request by Dixon Oates to obtain commercial zoning for property he owns approximately 10 miles east of Snowflake off the Concho Highway was denied by the Navajo County Board of Supervisors after concerns over the use of the property to grow medical marijuana were presented by not only two residents in the vicinity of the property, but also Supervisor Sylvia Allen.
Despite a cautious reminder by County Attorney Brad Carlyon that the board’s purpose was to determine if commercial zoning for the property was suitable for the area and not any other issue, board members seemed unable to steer themselves away from the topic of its intended use.
Public Works Director Trent Larsen addressed the board, stating that the land included a large portion of Hay Hollow Wash and that a big portion of that property was “unusable for other purposes.” He also noted that three letters of opposition had been received by Public Works, two of which were from owners of the same property.
In presenting the matter Larsen explained that there were other commercially zoned properties in the vicinity, but when the matter went before the Navajo County Planning and Zoning Commission, it denied the request.
Oates, who has a medical marijuana dispensary in Winslow that will open in the near future, was intending to use the property as a cultivation site for marijuana. If the zone change to Commercial-Residential had been approved, Oates would then have had to come before the board to obtain a special use permit for the cultivation center. At that time, Oates would have been able to present his reasons for supporting medical marijuana and the security measures that would have been in place at the grow site.
In this board meeting two residents were allowed to speak in opposition to medical marijuana, citing concerns of potential criminal activity and response times by law enforcement if such activity should occur.
When Oates was asked to address the board, he was asked to limit his comments to the actual zoning of the property.
After hearing from both of the residents, Allen immediately moved to table the matter. When no one seconded her motion, Carlyon suggested allowing Oates to speak regarding the property before making a decision.
After Oates spoke Allen explained that the reason she wanted to table the matter was due to legislation that was to go into effect in 90 days that “would allow counties greater latitude in dealing with these matters.”
Carlyon informed Allen that he was aware of the legislation and that it would not pertain to this matter, that it was only regarding agricultural classification of marijuana. He then suggested that a discussion in executive session regarding the legalities of the issue was an option for the board.
Allen then went on to say that given the number of medical marijuana card holders in the county, there didn’t seem to be much need for that type of business.
Vice Chairman Jesse Thompson also seemed uncertain as to how to proceed. “There seems to be no support for the zone change. Still federal law states that use of marijuana is illegal. Should we table this?”
Carlyon interjected, stating for the second time that an executive session was an option before making a decision. The board agreed, and Carlyon and the four board members present, Allen, Thompson, Dawnafe Whitesinger and Jonathan Nez, then left the room in order to enter an executive session.
Upon return to regular session, the board, with the exception of Nez, who did not return for the remainder of the meeting, voted against the zone change.
“I make a motion to deny the zone change as it will affect the character and tradition of the area, and is against the county land use plan,” stated Allen. The motion was seconded by Whitesinger, with Thompson voting in agreement.
The decision by the board means that Oates will not be able to use the property for any commercial operation.
By Linda Kor