By Tammy Gray
The Navajo County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance Tuesday that expands the limitations on locations of medical marijuana cultivation facilities to include rural areas. Supervisor Jesse Thompson cast the lone vote against the change.
Zoning Director Trent Larson explained that changes to the ordinance were initiated by former supervisor David Tenney following public outcry against locating a growing facility in the Heber/Overgaard area.
“We’re trying to balance the need of allowing this to happen by state law with meeting the needs of surrounding property owners,” Larson explained. “When we drafted the first ordinance this was all new to us and to the state. We thought that it would be best to put it in areas of high visibility, but the problem is that the more densely populated areas are resistant. We had a lot of neighbors and community members in opposition when a grow facility was planned.”
The new ordinance includes all of the same restrictions and provisions as the previous one, including a requirement that any such facility must obtain a special use permit from the board, except that growing operations can now be located outside of densely populated areas.
Larson noted that the only facilities allowed to grow marijuana in Navajo County must be directly tied to a dispensary operating within the county. There is a limit of five dispensaries in the county, and according to Larson four of them have their own growing facilities located in cities or towns that do not fall under the county ordinance.
“At this point, the others have cultivation in cities and only the dispensary in Taylor doesn’t, so we are only talking about one facility right now,” he said.
Supervisor Jonathon Nez expressed concern that grow facilities might try to locate north of Interstate 40, along the border of the Navajo Nation, where marijuana use is illegal regardless of purpose.
“I hate to see it pushed into that area where everyone begins to grow next to the nation border,” he said.
Larson explained that the number of cultivation facilities is limited to five and concerns regarding the exact location could be addressed during the special use permit process.
“We’re not talking about allowing this to be done on a widespread basis,” he said. “And we could solicit input if one were to ask to be located near the reservation.”
The supervisors agreed to update the ordinance to allow facilities to potentially locate in rural areas, with several members expressing a desire to ensure any approved site will be secure and easy to monitor.
Supervisor Thompson noted that he could not support the change to the ordinance, and is concerned about locating marijuana facilities in areas where security and monitoring could potentially be lacking.
In other action March 24, the board:
* Approved the submission of a $30,000 grant application for repairs to the roof of the historic Navajo County Courthouse in downtown Holbrook.
* Approved a recommendation for a new liquor license for The Bistro at Annie’s in Lakeside.
* Approved revisions to the county fire ordinance that clarify the definition of an unattended fire.
* Approved the renewal of a special use permit for a meteorological tower located approximately 13 miles southeast of Holbrook off of Highway 377 near the wind farm.
* Approved a special use permit for an AT&T tower in Linden.
* Approved an amendment to an intergovernmental agreement with the Navajo Nation that appoints the county as the fiscal agent for federal funds to be used for pavement work near the Shonto C-store.
The next regular board meeting will be held at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, April 14, at the county complex in Holbrook.