Marijuana drama at planning commission meeting

After a four-hour meeting as dramatic as it was long, Juneau’s Planning Commission decided Tuesday night to forward an ordinance establishing regulations for marijuana businesses to the full Assembly for consideration.

Minutes, if not seconds, after commission chair Nicole Grewe called the meeting to order, commissioner Bill Peters moved to suspend the rules in order to “address her role as chair of the planning commission.” The conversation Peters wanted to have stemmed from the Feb. 9 commission meeting, at which he accused Grewe of allowing off-topic public comment and failing to disclose a potential conflict of interest.

Peters’ motion failed with a 5–4 vote, one vote shy of the required two-thirds vote. Though the commission didn’t get to discuss Grewe’s position as chair as Peters might have hoped, the matter didn’t die with his motion.

Juneau resident Dixie Hood revived the matter immediately after Grewe opened the public comment period for non-agenda items.

“It’s totally inappropriate and unethical for her to continue to chair the Planning Commission and even to be a member of the Planning Commission,” Hood said of Grewe. She called for both the Assembly and Community Development Director Rob Steedle to consider ousting Grewe from her position after she allowed her husband to testify at the commission’s last meeting.

Later in the meeting, before the commission started discussing the marijuana ordinance, Grewe addressed the conflict accusations leveled against her. She asked her husband, Todd Boris, to stand up and she introduced him to everybody in the Assembly chambers.

“I should’ve mentioned that at the time, and I didn’t,” she said explaining how she should handled his Feb. 9 public testimony, which lasted about 25 minutes.

She also explained that she “had no intention in participating” in the hearing of a conditional use permit for the Fireweed Factory, a proposed marijuana cultivation facility less than 500 feet from Grewe’s home.

She did, however, say that she felt able to participate in the discussion regarding the ordinance before the commission “in a fair and balanced manner.” In accordance with rules of order, it fell to commission vice chair Ben Haight to decide whether Grewe could participate in discussion regarding the ordinance.

Haight, who took over briefly as commission chair to oversee the ordinance discussion, allowed Grewe to participate, but not before asking his peers for their input.

“Transparency, I think, is really the key word that we want to speak to in this situation,” Peters said before expressing his discontent with Grewe’s handling of public comment for the second time in two meetings. He said that the three-minute limit Grewe imposed on members of the public at Tuesday’s meeting was “in grave conflict to the way she handled the last meeting” at which commenters were not limited.

Time limits or not, the public testimony during Tuesday’s meeting made the hour-and-a-half public participation period of the Feb. 9 meeting look tame.

The North Douglas neighborhood crew of about six people, all of whom oppose any commercial marijuana cultivation in residential zones, showed up and had bolstered its numbers. Tuesday was the fourth public meeting in a row — two Assembly meetings and two Planning Commission meetings — at which the group has testified. And now the group’s members have a petition of about 80 signatures backing them, each member told the commission.

“I think that we can all agree that neighborhoods and industry are not compatible,” North Douglas resident Fred Hiltner said.

Merry Ellefson, another North Douglas resident, called for a moratorium on conditional use permits in all residential areas until the city creates a comprehensive neighborhood plan for North Douglas. She was not alone in this request. Toward the end of the meeting Grewe, too, asked whether the commission should impose such a moratorium. Her question went unanswered, though.

Hiltner et al. weren’t the only interested group to testify. Members of Juneau’s commercial cannabis community spoke during the public participation portion of the meeting. One commenter used more than words to make a point.

In order to dispel the “fear-based message” of the commenters in Hiltner’s camp, Ben Wilcox, a prospective marijuana business owner, drank the fertilizer he hopes to use growing his plants.

“Ugh, that tastes like crap,” Wilcox said, grimacing after taking a swig from the fertilizer bottle as members of the public laughed. “That does taste bad.”

But as bad as the fertilizer might have been, the bad taste in Wilcox’ mouth came from the “last-minute” commenters who are now looking to change the zoning rules for marijuana businesses, which the Assembly set in November.

“I’ve been to dozens of these meetings,” Wilcox said, acknowledging that other members of the cannabis community have as well. “We have been upfront, open and honest about our intentions since the beginning unlike our opposition. Why weren’t they here working with us?”

The full Assembly will now discuss and eventually pass some version of the ordinance that moved out of the Planning Commission Tuesday. It has not been scheduled for public hearing at this point, but it is unlikely the ordinance will make it out of the Assembly before April due to procedural order.

Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or sam.degrave@juneauempire.com.

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