Pot grows

This map indicates residential areas and residential area buffer zones where marijuana cultivation operations are not permitted. (Image courtesy of San Miguel County Planning Department) 

The county’s licensed marijuana growers can now expand to include outdoor facilities. The San Miguel Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) unanimously approved an amendment to the county Land Use Code that will allow growers to apply for a special use permit to cultivate marijuana plants for recreational and medicinal use, outdoors. The proposed amendment came before the BOCC with a recommendation for approval from the County Planning Commission (CPC).

According to county planning director Kaye Simonson’s memo, cultivation in the county can only occur in buildings or greenhouses. Hoop houses were defined as insubstantial and not permitted, nor were outdoor plots. Simonson’s memo noted that about 200 plants can be grown in a 3,000 square-foot greenhouse.

Commercial marijuana cultivation operations must comply with numerous state and local regulations, which include proper security measures such as cameras and fencing, visual screening, plant counts and other considerations. 

The conversation was instigated by Alpine Wellness’ Nolan Murphy, who approached the county planning department last fall. The BOCC was favorable to amending the LUC to allow for outdoor cultivation and directed staff to draft language and have it reviewed by the CPC. Under the county’s Local Disaster Emergency Declaration, which granted Simonson the ability to issue a temporary use permit in May to Alpine Wellness, the grow operation was allowed to implement the infrastructure to grow in 20,000 square feet outdoors for the 2020 season. 

The CPC’s recommendation came after choosing between one of two options for the proposed amendments. The first option would have retained the LUC’s current limitation on a total of three cultivation areas on a parcel greater than 35 acres in size, which would allow about 600 plants total, whether indoors or outdoors. Most premises are licensed by the state for more plants. 

The second option, and the one they put before the BOCC with a recommendation for approval, allowed the applicant to request the number of cultivation areas that would allow them to grow the number of plants allowed under their state license. Alpine Wellness has what is known as a Tier 1 retail state license, which allows up to 1,800 plants. The new regulations will allow 20,000 square-foot areas of outdoor cultivation on 35 acres or more. Growers could have greenhouses, or outdoor cultivation areas, or any combination thereof. 

The amendment came with input from a number of agencies including Colorado Parks and Wildlife, San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters, the Town of Norwood and fellow marijuana licensees Anton Viditz-Ward of The Green Room, and Dahlia Mertens of Mary Jane’s Medicinals, as well as other entities.

Mertens and Viditz-Ward each supported the changes to the LUC, with Mertens supporting Alpine Wellness being able to grow the number of plants they were allowed under their state license. She also noted that outdoor cultivation operations in other counties had not experienced any issues, a statement that Simonson corroborated in her research.

Masters suggested that the “location and reliability of the operator may be a factor in considering requests.” 

In approving the amendment, commissioner Kris Holstrom, who farms on Hastings Mesa and has experience with hoop houses, recommended that county staff inspect the Alpine Wellness hoop houses for ultra-violet degradation. And the commissioners were assured that neighboring hemp farmers would not be placed at the rick of cross-pollination, as Alpine grows only female clones. 

In other planning matters, the board approved amendments to the LUC that clarify issues surrounding short-term rentals in the county. According to senior planner Troy Hangen’s memo, “Recent activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on some of the issues that require clarification. One example is circumventing code requirements by renting rooms to multiple parties. These properties should be permitted as Bed and Breakfasts or Guest Ranches, which requires a One-Step Process through the CPC.” 

Some of the additions to the language surrounding short-term rentals include “clarification of what type of property can be rented, and water and trash issues,” Hangen’s memo read. “The primary residence is the only piece of the property that may be used for short-term rentals. Individuals from one single party are only allowed to rent the property. Rental of accessory buildings, RVs, and campsites are not allowed. It is also the responsibility of the owner to pay taxes even if the property is rented using an on-line platform. Finally, it is clearly stated that the property must have potable water and the source the source must be from a municipality or a permitted well …”

The commissioners also passed the new short-term rental language unanimously.

“It’s important that the products we’re offering are safe,” noted Holstrom.

And finally, Simonson told the commissioners that the Sunnyside annexation process into the Town of Telluride is underway. The county-owned parcel just west of Eider Creek condominiums on the Spur will be the site of 22 affordable housing units. Sunnyside is planned to be a net zero project with on-site solar. Telluride will annex the site in order to provide water and sewer services.