Monte variance application fails

Hearing examiner does not have the authority to render a decision on marijuana application

The City of Montesano hearing examiner has dismissed a contentious request for a variance for a proposed retail marijuana operation within city limits.

A variance would have allowed for a retail marijuana operation to open within 1,000 feet of certain public structures and facilities (schools, playgrounds, recreation centers, child care centers, parks, public transit center, libraries or arcades) but no less than 100 feet. The buffer is set by state law.

In the past year, the state announced it would allow cities to allow variances for marijuana businesses, so long as an ordinance is in place.

At the end of August, a public hearing was held with the hearing examiner for an application requesting a variance for a retail marijuana business. The applicant, Yvonne Brumfield of Elma, was not present for the hearing.

While many members of the public were opposed to retail marijuana within the City of Montesano, a group of critics including city Councilman Dan Wood and former mayor Ken Estes called the entire hearing into question.

Both Estes and Wood questioned the authority of the city’s hearing examiner to render a decision. Because the city had no ordinance in place allowing for a variance, the applicant was actually asking the hearing examiner to grant a variance to state law, they said separately.

In a written decision on Sept. 7, hearing examiner Neil Aaland, essentially agreed with the opposition.

In a summary of decision Aaland wrote, “The hearing examiner does not have the authority to render a decision on this application.”

Aaland concluded “The request by the applicant is not a request for a variance from city land use requirements under the Montesano Municipal Code. Rather, it is a request for a buffer reduction under (state law), which requires adoption of a local ordinance reducing the buffer requirements. The city has not adopted such an ordinance.”

The city council, historically and presently, has been lukewarm to marijuana operations within city limits. Earlier this year, the council briefly had a discussion regarding the possibility of an ordinance allowing for a variance. The council did not have a draft ordinance to approve or deny, but the council was asked to guage how it collectively would feel about variances for marijuana operations.

The council did not request a draft ordinance.

Prior to that indecision, a different council in 2013, with many different council members, refused to pass a moratorium on marijuana businesses.

The applicant could ask the Montesano City Council to consider an ordinance.

The public hearing was held on Aug. 26. The hearing examiner had 10 business days to issue a decision.